The Unanswered Question: Who Holds Media & NFL Accountable?
Late in the afternoon, on Monday November 25th, NFL.com writer Mike Silver broke the story that Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner was facing a one-year suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug (PED) policy for the second time in as many years. He also reported multiple times that the Seahawks will move on without Browner, implying that the suspension had already been handed down and the appeal had been heard. The problem with Silver’s reports were that he only got one thing right; Browner was facing a one-year suspension. It was not for PEDs. The Seahawks had not decided to move on without Browner. The appeal had not been heard, and the suspension had not yet been enforced. Many fans react to these mistakes by Silver as semantics. They say, “Who cares what it was for? He screwed the team again.” That reaction misses a larger question. While it is clear that the media is holding players accountable for adhering to the NFL policies, who is ensuring that the media is held accountable for accuracy in their reporting? Their mistakes can cause significant harm to a player, to a team, to a coach, and to a franchise.
Silver not only got the original report wrong, but he got the amended report wrong as well:
If you’re a Seahawks fan, the important thing to know is this: The team is moving on without Browner.
— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) November 25, 2013
ESPN also got it wrong:
Browner appeal for substance abuse policy already has been heard. Means he won’t play again for Seahawks. Also a free agent in March
— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) November 25, 2013
The standard, though, for reporters employed by the NFL should be higher. NFL.com is listed as the “Official Site of the National Football League.” If the NFL is going to break news, it should come from flawless sources. Jay Glazer, who works for Fox, told me he triple sources every story before reporting it. That is how he has become known as the NFL media member that can be trusted. He does not have access to NFL employees the way people employed at NFL.com and NFL Network likely do. Even if those NFL.com media members do not have greater access, readers expect that news coming from that source is vetted. Every fan who downloaded the official NFL Mobile app got a news alert stating that Browner had violated the PED policy. When the league crest shows next to an alert coming from the NFL app, it should be something people can trust.
Pete Carroll has been unable to discuss the Browner suspension because there is a $500K fine for any NFL employee who discusses these matters. So coaches and players cannot discuss these confidential proceedings, but reporters employed by the NFL can? Not only is Silver allowed to report on the matter, but he is allowed to report incorrectly on it.
The letter of the law likely shows NFL.com or NFL Network as a subsidiary that is not held to the same rules in this regard. They should be. This is news coming from league-owned and operated properties. If the league really takes the confidentiality of these proceedings seriously, they should be able to find who is leaking the information to their employees and fine them accordingly. Otherwise, it appears that the NFL actually just wants players and coaches to be silenced while they puppeteer a propaganda machine.
I regret that the original report indicated that the Browner suspension was for a performance-enhancing substance. It has been corrected.
— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) November 25, 2013
Does Silver regret it? When a player makes a mistake, they are suspended without pay, their future employment and earning potential is dramatically effected, and they are embarrassed publicly. Silver should face similar consequences. The people that gave him the false information should be similarly punished. The source that disclosed information about confidential proceedings should face the fine the league has put in place.
The way the league runs their media properties now rewards people for breaking the news, not for getting the news right. They may claim that they need to operate in this fashion to compete with the likes of ESPN and other sports news businesses, but they should seriously reconsider that stance. Abandon all attempts to be first to report news. Focus completely on being the most reliable source of NFL news. Get it right, or do not report it.
No, Mike. That was not right either. Mistakes happen. We all make them. Mistakes that negatively impact the lives of people who are respecting the NFL confidentiality rules cannot go unpunished. The NFL must hold the members of its media group to the same standard that they hold players and coaches. Those are the people, after all, that make the shield worth protecting in the first place.