This tweet from Globe football writer Greg A Bedard caught my attention last night:
Bedard went on to explain a little bit more of what he was referring to, by saying that he wasn’t talking about the Packers, and adding:
It appears he was attempting to say that the Patriots should treat their players like adults by trusting them not to say dumb stuff to the media.
This continues a glorious Boston Globe tradition carried on by the likes of Nick Cafardo, Jerome Solomon and others of complaining about lack of access to the Patriots and implying that the Patriots players are somehow held under some sort of bondage and indentured servitude down there at Gillette Stadium.
My first instinct upon reading the above tweets was to reply that the Patriots methods seem to have worked pretty well for them. But why? Is their method of dealing with the media the correct one, perhaps not for all teams, but for them?
I believe it is. Here’s why:
1) They don’t give opponents anything to take and use against them.
Some might believe that “bulletin board material” is overrated. To some extent that is true, but it is also true that professional athletes are a prideful bunch, and very much into “respect.” If they’re not getting it, they’re going to be motivated to prove themselves. Rodney Harrison was the master of this, he used slights, perceived or real, to give himself an additional shot of motivation. The Patriots don’t provide bulletin board material. Tom Brady starting that Terrell Suggs and the Ravens talk a whole lot for only having beaten the Patriots since he’s been there is about as far as they go. In most cases, they go the opposite route and praise the opponent – something that some media members (Bedard included) have complained about as well.
2) They don’t give away information that could be used in game planning against themselves.
In recent weeks, Rex Ryan has given out small details on how his team plans to attack an upcoming opponent. (Including the Patriots prior to their45-3 loss to New England.) He talked about how they would defend Tom Brady. He said they wouldn’t kick to Devin Hester. He revealed that Mark Sanchez has cartilage issues in his shoulder. Why? Why would you give out any information about your team? Much of this is tied to injury matters, but it applies to general strategy as well.
3) Giving out no injury information is better than giving out incorrect injury information.
So if Bill Belichick goes up to the podium and says that player X has a strained knee ligament and will be out for two weeks, and then those two weeks and more go by and there is no player X on the field, wouldn’t that be pointed out by the media? You bet. They’d wonder if they had been deliberately misled, and speculate about what else they had been sold a bill of goods on. Why would Belichick give an answer about an injury, especially immediately following a game when not all the information is available? Even when the injury is fully diagnosed, different players heal at different rates, so it is unfair to place some sort of artificial deadline on a player recovery. It’s better to give the minimum required (league mandated) information rather than creating an expectation of a return time.
4) Having one voice for the organization prevents conflicting messages and keeps things consistent.
Yes, assistant coaches are now required to be made available to the media. When they get that chance, don’t they sound a lot like Bill Belichick? Of course. Whether he’s speaking or not, the messages coming out are the same. That consistency keeps things simple and protects the players and coaches from revealing too much.
5) The players can stay focused on the task at hand.
The players know what is expected of them when speaking with the media. If they feel uncomfortable dealing with a topic, they know the “pat” answer that can be given. If they’re more comfortable dealing with the media, they have freedom to speak – for themselves, not on behalf of the team. Some players use that freedom and speak more, others stick strictly to the company line.
Mike Reiss had a post today about a Patriots Today clip that showed a sign reminding the players what is expected of them. I think it applies to their media policy as well:
WHEN YOU LEAVE HERE …
* Don’t believe or fuel the hype
* Manage expectations
* Ignore the noise
* Speak for youself
In summary – The Patriots avoid giving themselves a lot of headaches or complications by the way they deal with the media. They keep things simple, and allow themselves to focus on the field. Their job after all, isn’t to please the media, but to win games. If they feel this is the best way to do it and it works for them, then they should keep doing it. I’m not saying it’s the only way to operate, but it works for them. It’s not about letting the players act like adults. It’s about staying consistent as an organization. If the end result is success, I don’t think the players much mind the “shackles” they are forced to operate under.