What does it mean to be an NBA player or another athlete? There are many obligations and responsibilities that come with being an elite contender in any sport, but where is the line drawn? Recently, these questions have been raised in light of what is occurring more and more frequently with famous athletes. For as long as the concept of professional sports has come to fruition, one constant has remained: athletes don’t like talking to the media. It is a well-known fact that one of the professional athletes’ least favorite chores is attending a press conference, and for the millionth time be forced to answer burning questions posed by, for the most part, people they’ve never met. This is not exclusive to sports; however, just ask Kanye.
NBA star Kyrie Irving has had clashes with the media in recent months. He made his stance on interacting with NBA news media clear when refusing to attend multiple media events and press conferences, even if held in a virtual setting. In December 2020, he was fined $25,000 for refusing to speak during the NBA’s ‘media week’ and was quoted saying, “I do not talk to pawns,” via an Instagram story. He has had various issues in relation to the obligations that NBA players have with the media, and in the past, has been the target of controversy. Whether it is to share an unpopular opinion or his frustrations at the breach of his privacy, Irving has made his feelings toward the media responsibilities of professional athletes clear.
This brings us to a thinking point. Who do we think athletes really are? Are they descendants of Mount Olympia with supernatural abilities? Are they sports promoters? Are they crystal-ball-readers? There is some credence in the argument that they owe the media nothing. In fact, by being forced to comment, they are doing the media’s job for them. A reporter could try harder to get a scoop from a willing player, but do we really need to force and fine professional athletes?
For example, in 2015, former NFL star Marshawn Lynch showed a similar distaste for interacting with the media when he repeated the same 8 words to each question posed to him during a press conference. “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.” Prior to this, the league threatened to fine him $500,000 if he did not show up and answer the media’s questions. He found a loophole in this threat by just repeating those 8 words to each question, which miraculously worked as he was able to avoid the fine. This GQ article breaks down this ridiculous situation in more detail.
How These Rules Control Athletes
These types of incidents bring light to the power imbalance between the League and its players. While it is true that they willingly signed on to be part of the league, such steep fines reek of power and control. It is a stark reminder of the power of professional sports leagues have over their players, something the players are quick to notice. Have the people who run the show considered good rewarding behavior instead of taking punitive actions? I believe this would change the source of motivation and prevent embarrassing situations where players refuse to talk only to be punished by ‘big daddy.’
I believe athletes should be left alone to improve and hone their talent. It feels like undue pressure on players from a league run by bloated geezers looking to be sticklers. I would love to hear the pros’ thoughts and projections, but only if they want to share them. It has so much more meaning when athletes commit to actions without duty and obligation, and it is all the more exciting to hear of a reporter snagging an in-depth interview with these athletic powerhouses than to see them spit out a few words to satisfy a contract.