There is some sort of twisted irony to Inquirer sportswriter Jeff McLane's ejection from the Lincoln Financial Field press box on Sunday becoming the lead football story on a day when the Philadelphia Eagles win a game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Just when you think the focus should be on a positive, the team ends up responsible for giving itself a huge, public relations black eye.
It is unfathomable to believe that owner Jeffrey Lurie and/or general manager Howie Roseman did not approve, authorize, or order Anne Gordon, the team's senior vice president of marketing, media, and communications, to kick McLane out of the press box. If Gordon, a former Inquirer managing editor, did it without authorization, she should be fired. A public relations professional who was ordered to do something like this should have the professional dignity to resign. The PR person in the press box who had the altercation with McLane should seriously think about a change of career - because having a solid relationship with the local press is probably the most important part of having success in your position.
Sure, this is a "sports and entertainment" story, and not national or local news, but the message and possible precedent the Eagles can set is a dangerous one. I've been on both sides of the equation - as a pro sports PR professional and on the flip side as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun and Associated Press (before going to law school and shifting careers). From those perspectives, I found the McLane incident enormously troubling.
Many years ago, as a PR professional at a much lower pay grade than Gordon's, I can assure you that mixing it up with a local sports reporter would not have been looked upon kindly by team leadership - although I once threw Larry King out of the press room at Madison Square Garden and lived to see another day. Whether you agree with them or not, you still look to curry favor among those that cover your team on a daily basis.
Recently, I had the privilege of addressing the Temple University Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America on changes in pro sports PR over the years. My focus was on the importance of relationships with members of the media and how those relationships and interactions were the key to being great media relations professionals. There is no room for pettiness and kindergarten playground tiffs.
I remember a general manager yelling at me for "inflaming the opposition" by posting an out-of-town score on the out-of-town scoreboard. I watched owners fume at negative press coverage or not enough coverage - "We are below the fold again!"
My interactions with management at teams and leagues where I once worked are different than they would be in 2017. I realize that. And only Gordon knows the truth in regard to the "communications" that occurred regarding McLane. But I can't imagine a situation playing out as it did on Sunday at the Linc. Even if a reporter yelled at me about a perceived indiscretion, my thought would not be to kick him or her out - it would be to make sure it did not turn into negative press for my organization.
There's already too much attention to trying to control the message in professional sports. It's possible that the Eagles, rather than letting fans get their news from real media outlets, may want NFL coverage to come exclusively from its own "Insider" reporter - which is nothing more than the equivalent of reading expanded game notes from the PR department. I'm pretty sure that criticizing ownership or management is off limits. This is a sad trend that diminishes the importance of the fourth estate.
I've been on the team side of these situations, and understand that certain beat writers or columnists are despised. In some cases, I was in agreement; in others, I kept my thoughts to myself. Regardless, you never let the media members know it - because your relationships with those professionals are at the core of good, investigative sports reporting. And if you lose that kind of coverage, following your teams is not so much fun anymore, for anyone.
Micah Buchdahl is a former pro sports public relations professional and reporter. firstname.lastname@example.org