THE COUCH SLOUCH

Here's why sports journalism has changed so much

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Editor's Note: Today's Couch Slouch column is not suitable for readers of all ages; children will be bored to death, and certain adults might prefer to think about death. It involves journalism, which no one cares about.

In the hypercompetitive world of NFL inside information, the big boys – ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen, NBC's Peter King and Mike Florio, Fox's Jay Glazer – are watched by millions on TV and followed by millions on Twitter.

The goal? To beat the other guy to bring us the latest scoop.

It's a rough-and-tumble business.

Actually, it's somewhere between dirty business and the price of doing business.

Journalism 101 has been replaced by Journalism 101k – the former teaches professional standards, the latter teaches how to earn six figures a year.

In the old days of manual typewriters, pens perched on top of your right ear and fedoras with press passes attached, you would report without fear or favor. Nowadays, you report with fear of losing your sources and with a favor here and there.

Sometimes NFL TV guys become big business all on their own. Naturally, they have agents or representation, and often their agents also rep NFL coaches and players. And this is not good.

Sometimes NFL TV guys exchange information with sources – the source, say, will help a reporter on a story if the reporter tells him what he's heard about another team's interest in a team or a draft pick – to curry favor with the source. And this is not good.

Sometimes NFL TV guys will "carry the water," so to speak, for someone else, perhaps further some anonymous source's agenda to maintain a good relationship with that individual. And this is not good.

Sometimes NFL TV guys will throw out the old adage, "It's better to be right than to be first," for the new adage, "It's better to be first than to be right."

In the black market for NFL information, there are shades of gray everywhere. It's all about access – it can be bought with trust, or less-than-holy alliances.

Best I can tell, these fellas live by the dictum, "It's not a conflict of interest unless it conflicts my interest."

Let's start with Schefter. Before hitting the national stage, we got a whiff of his modus operandi. While covering the Denver Broncos, Schefter wrote books with Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan and Broncos running back Terrell Davis, then kept covering them. They were essentially his business partners, so one might wonder about Schefter's objectivity; also, I like his chances to be first on Shanahan and Davis news.

Mortensen has been an unofficial presence at the Manning Passing Academy for several years, run by the Archie Manning family quarterback dynasty. Uh, how could Mort not get Peyton Manning scoops first?

Glazer trains NFL players in mixed martial arts in the offseason. Let me see if I have this right: They pay him for training expertise, then he reports on them as an "insider." Got it.

Then there's King, the former Monday Morning Quarterback guru at Sports Illustrated. He's a human pretzel of twisted allegiances and mysteriously sourced misinformation. Air-traffic controllers and NFL insiders should bat close to 1.000; if King – a career .262 hitter – were a controller, the friendly skies would be chaotic.

During the Ray Rice flap several years ago – in which King bungled the reporting – he began an SI.com piece with the quote, "Roger [Goodell] has determined that he will be a leader in the domestic-violence space." And to whom did King attribute this comment? "A source with knowledge of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's mindset."

1. Who uses language like that?

2. A source with knowledge of Goodell's mindset? Really? Heck, that could be Goodell himself!

My goodness, who watches these selectively watchful watchmen?

OK, I'm done now. You can bring the kids back in.

Ask The Slouch

Q.With the NCAA deciding to permit athletes to cash in on their name, image or likeness, do you think that Eric Dickerson and Craig James will now be allowed to access their retirement funds set up at SMU? (Jeff Dent; South Charleston, W.Va.)

A. What are you, nuts? Those payments have already been maxed out.

Q.I'm assuming MLB will have at least 30 jobs next year in the New York office monitoring electronic strike zones. Can I use you as a reference when I apply? (Kirk Cornwell; Delmar, N.Y.)

A. As a rule, listing me as a reference is high risk/low reward.

Q.If you were invited to the White House after winning the Pulitzer Prize, would you go? (Michael Turner; Evanston, Ill.)

A. Frankly, it all hinges on lane availability at the White House bowling alley.

Q.Once the climate change issue is resolved, do you expect the science community to shift its attention to inventing a sweatshirt with sleeves at a length Bill Belichick might find suitable? (Scott Shuster; Newton, Mass.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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Mattress Mack and the Astros host Pearland Little League at Wednesday night's game. Photo by LittleLeague.org

Sure, it’s impressive that the Astros have made four World Series appearances in recent years, but they’re not alone. There’s another baseball team around here that’s also headed to its fourth World Series since 2010.

Pearland defeated Oklahoma, 9-4, on Tuesday to win the Southwest Regional and qualify for the Little League World Series starting Aug. 17 in South Williamsport, PA.

Most fans and media say the Little League World Series is held in Williamsport, but it’s South Williamsport, just a 5-minute stroll across a bridge over the Susquehanna River in north central Pennsylvania.

Pearland is on a torrid 13-game winning streak that swept through district, sectional, state and regional tournaments to earn the Little League World Series bid.

Here’s how difficult the road to the Little League World Series is. There are 15 teams in MLB’s American League. If the Astros finish with one of the two best records, they’ll have to win two playoff series to play in the World Series.

Little League is a little bigger than MLB. Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world, with 2.5 million kids playing for 180,000 teams in more than 100 countries on six continents.

Pearland, representing East Texas, had to defeat All-Star teams from West Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas and Colorado to win the Southwest Regional. The Little League World Series will host 20 teams - 10 from the U.S. and 10 from international regions.

If you have children that play Little League, or you’re just a fan, attending the Little League World Series should be high on your baseball bucket list.

I covered the Little League World Series in 2010 when Pearland made its first appearance and made it all the way to the U.S. championship game. It may have been my most fun assignment ever.

The Little League World Series is played by 11 and 12-year-olds in Little League’s major division. When ESPN and ABC air these games, they’ll present the players as innocent little kids, like Beaver and Wally or Tom and Huck. They’ll show the kids playing Simon Says with the Little League mascot called Dugout. They’ll ask the kids who’s their favorite big leaguer.

I was a Little League coach. I followed Little League All-Stars across Texas all the way to South Williamsport. These kids are absolute baseball maniacs with $400 gloves, $500 bats and Oakley sunglasses. I thought the Astros might call and ask where they got their super neat equipment.

Especially in Texas, these kids are built tough with long ball power and play year-round travel baseball with high-priced private coaches. This isn’t a choose-up game in the park where kids play in their school clothes, one kid brings a baseball and the players share bats. I looked at some of the Little Leaguers and wondered if they drove to the stadium.

I half-expected, when ABC asked who their baseball idol was, they’d answer “me!”

Here’s how seriously good these kids can play the game. Justin Verlander throws a 97-mph fastball. That’s pretty fast. It’s not rare anymore for a Little League pitcher to reach 70-mph on a fastball. The Little League mound is 46 feet from home plate. A 70-mph pitch in Little League gets to home plate in the same time as a 91-mph pitch from 60 feet 6 inches in MLB.

In 2015, a pitcher named Alex Edmonson fired an 83-mph heater at the Little League World Series. The reaction time a Little League batter had against Alex’s pitch was equal to a Major Leaguer trying to hit a 108-mph fastball. Good luck with that. Alex pitched a no-hitter and struck out 15 batters in six innings at the Little League World Series. Now 20, Alex is a relief pitcher for Clemson.

The Little League World Series is a trip. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Philadelphia and drive to South Williamsport. I sat next to CC Sebathia’s mother on the plane.

Admission to all Little League World Series games is free and snack bar prices are reasonable. A hot dog is $3. Alcohol and smoking are prohibited.

The first Little League World Series was held in 1947. Only 58 players have played in the Little League World Series and later played in MLB. The most famous are Cody Bellinger and Jason Varitek. Only two players from the Houston area made the leap: Brady Rodgers and Randal Grichuk both played on the 2003 team from Richmond, about 30 miles from Houston in Fort Bend County.

While you’re in South Williamsport, you should visit the Little League museum and Hall of Excellence. Among the inductees: Presidents Joe Biden and George W. Bush, Astros manager Dusty Baker, Kevin Costner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dick Vitale, Rob Manfred and someone who’d later play stadiums in a different way, Bruce Springsteen.

Speaking of Springsteen, I shattered a record at the 2010 Little League World Series. The record was Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. I was talking to a Little League executive while teams were warming up on the field. Born in the U.S.A. came over the stadium loudspeakers.

I told the executive, I’m a big fan but maybe this isn’t the best song you should be playing. The executive asked why not? Well, you might want to listen to the words. Born in the U.S.A. is a depressing song about a U.S. soldier who is sent to Vietnam and can’t find a job when he gets back home. It’s not exactly Yankee Doodle Dandy. You have teams from Asia here (Japan won the tournament that year). The executive said, please tell me you’re kidding. Here’s one verse:

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the (what is considered a slur for Asians).

Later I got an email from the president of Little League International.

“Quite honestly, I've never listened closely to the words of Born in the USA. I see clearly how it is offensive to our Little League friends from Asian nations. I have directed our folks who coordinate the stadium music to discontinue playing it in the future.”

Play Centerfield by John Fogerty instead. The message of that song is, “put me in coach.” Little League couldn’t say it any better.

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