Tuesday, November 18, 2014

And All's Right With The World?

by Savannah

 photo e1441167-1e61-4000-a0b4-681ff1c15471_zps90511d6c.jpg
via @RogerFederer

The above picture was posted by whomever handles Roger Federer's Twitter account about 5:14p Eastern Time. The message? See we're fine. I even let Stan make bunny ears. Nothing to see here. Time to move on.

If you want to understand the power of agents and why they get paid the big bucks this story is an ideal case study.
I've been on a mini rampage this year about the lack of real journalism when it comes to covering tennis. Instead of sportswriters who delve into the nuts and bolts of the sport we have people covering tennis who simply put their names on the press releases handed to them by certain players agents. Some agents are more powerful than others though and it's no stretch to say that Tony Godsick, Roger Federer's partner in their new PR firm that split off from IMG recently, is a super agent. He's so good, so well connected, and dare I say feared, that not one US tennis writer, or any member of the tennis writers guild or whatever they call themselves, has dared mumble a word about what happened during and after the semi final match between Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer.

Instead I've seen the French accused of being shit stirrers (this was by a fan), outright denial by many fans, and insults directed at Wawrinka's manhood.

I have to give credit where credit is due. John McEnroe broke the code of silence when he went live and admitted that something happened. That's a big deal. No one stateside has said "boo" since. And he's been attacked for doing what a reporter is supposed to do.

If you still doubt the fix was in when is the last time a player didn't face the press gathered and waiting to ask questions and instead did a one on one with a single ATP reporter behind closed doors? Imaine an American quarterback after throwing five interceptions refusing to meet the press and talking to one hand selected reporter? A top soccer manager refusing to meet the press after a bad match? The screaming would never end. Only in tennis would this be greeted with total silence by the "journalists".

What I have found disgusting is the rage of Federer fans against his wife. For some reason they've never liked her and now it seems that they blame her for tarnishing the image of the man they worship. Mirka Federer is not some "model" who does nothing but sit and look pretty in a players box. She managed Federer's career until he signed with IMG, in other words when it was too much for her to do on her own. That doesn't mean she's a saint. It means that she doesn't deserve to be insulted for her perceived WAG status. She is more than a WAG and if anything some of those who consider themselves reporters should be talking about the torrent of anger and hate directed at her. I'm not excusing what she's alleged to have done. I'm just saying that if there is anger and rage let's look at the why of that. Sometimes fans buy into a media image and take it to extremes. And agents get paid to help that dynamic along.

The story is not going to go away. Davis Cup starts this Friday. We'll all have to wait and see what happens.


Randy Burgess said...

Interesting post. But with Fedmirkastan, I still don't buy conspiracy. I don't hate Federer for having an agent. They all have agents.

Still you raise a more important question: what is good tennis journalism? And not just for tennis but all sports?

Some of us, like me, are interested in mostly matches & could care less about gossip. My wish for Federer, Wawrinka, and Mirka is that they reconcile among themselves & that the media moves on to real news. I also don't get why Federer fans would be mad at Mirka, as you say some are. It seems clear she said something that irked Wawrinka, whether it was the timing or the actual words; but as Andrew Burton tweeted, Stan was agitated at the time and it wouldn't have taken much to get him teed off - especially since he knows Mirka and would recognize her voice & was probably hearing a lot of it the whole match. Now if she said "Stan, let's see you choke it away now, big boy," then that would lower my respect for her. But if she just said whatever a supportive spouse might say in the heat of the moment, this to me is hardly a story.

But back to sports journalism. There is match or game coverage, and then there is the business side. And for many sports, the business side is grim.

Most major sports in the U.S. are hideous operations. The NFL and the NBA are both built on the explotation of young men. Both raise questions of continued racism, and the NFL in addition has the horrible problem (in common with hockey) that when it is played "right," it damages players for life. We are only just learning about concussions, but even before now we already knew, or should have known if we were paying attention, how so many offensive and defensive linemen end up crippled. But for many fans, out of sight, out of mind.

In my 20s I was a huge boxing fan: Ali, Michael Spinks, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Durán, Tommy Hearns. Then I learned about Ali's decline, and deduced that I had been paying money to watch men injure each other. I stopped watching boxing. In my 20s, I was a huge Celtics fan. But then Lenny Bias died of a heart attack from snorting cocaine after having just been drafted by the Celtics. I took a look at how the NBA relies on a corrupt college athletics system. It took awhile, but I was just too sad to keep watching.

Tennis doesn't have men hitting each other in the face. So outside of matches, what should reporters be writing about? I'd say, about how the industry is run, and who benefits and who is getting screwed. So the WTA shows up for its misogyny in regards to on-court coaching. The spread of tennis to Asia shows up as a welcome trend. And so on.

You can argue that Federer's getting a pass on retiring is news because it is favoristism. I agree favoritism should be covered, but don't think it applies here. He really did pull his back & was apparently experiencing spams even as doubles were playing. The Wawrinka tiff is not cause but coincidence.

If Serena rolled her ankle badly and had to retire from a big final, I would fully expect her to get as much of a "pass" as Federer has. Yet you know how weird the press gets about Serena. I was angered when some fans & reporters started saying there was something suspect about her Wimbledon doubles withdrawal and refused to take her word she had a virus. And I object in the same way to those fans and reporters who have chosen to doubt Federer's word that he suffered an injury.

Beyond that I believe the two Brit writers you quote are making some of their reports up - in particular the characterizaton of Mirka's words as "sledging" about Stan's "whinging." I tweeted about this not for a laugh, but because I know slang can't be questioned the way a careful attempt at paraphrase can. They are using a gap in what is known to slander her. I was a journalist for 10 years and witnessed colleagues making things up, so I have an idea of how it's done.

Randy Burgess said...

Following up - breaking news, Simon Briggs either has doctored the video or else has fabulous ears, picking up what 131,000 fans, 318 tweeters, and 34 tennis journos missed: an actual word, "Crybaby," that fits right in with Stan's outburst. Fed fans are still claiming on twitter that there's no way to know it's Mirka, but too much else would seem to fit by now. So yes it's a story because it happened on court. But no it doesn't relate to Federer pulling out of the tourney - if he was healthy he plays. And sure his agent is trying to spin it. If I had an agent I'd sure as heck want him to spin it. Ultimately it might be much better for Mirka to simply apologize, but she doesn't like being in the light & you can't blame her. What a feeding frenzy would then ensue, to quote Jacques Cousteau.

Savannah said...

Randy thank you for both posts. Your cold eyed look at sports in North America is on point. I want to read that book about Boogard (sp), may he rest in peace.

The agent for someone at Federer's level in any sport is supposed to do what seems to have been done and squash anything negative about his player. Godsick is doing his job. When something like this happens and reporters are encouraged to look the other way anyone who doesn't is usually punished with loss of access right? And if that is the case the offender loses his or her career.

As for "making shit up" I'm not surprised. As you know I had no idea what "sledging" is until yesterday. I thought trash-talk was used all over the English speaking world. I like your point that using terms like that allows for reporting that is not quite reporting. The person using the term can say "I never said Person A said 'blah'. I just said there was sledging going on."

For some reason some Federer fans - I'd like to think they're young but this has been going on for years now - feel he should have some super model or drop dead gorgeous (according to their standards) woman. Mirka is not the woman they fantasize him having at his side. If you want to see what vile things they're saying about her put on your Hazmat suit and read the comments posted by the Daily Fail. I didn't make it past five comments last night. There was one lonely soul trying to stop it by pointing out that Mirka was a player, that she managed Federer for years, and that she still plays a major role in balancing his life. I've also seen the rage and anger against her on fan sites.

At this point I don't think she's going to apologize and to be honest I'm not sure she should. Instead I think the actions of Mourier, the chair ump, should be looked at more closely. If someone was trash talking loud enough to affect one of the players shouldn't a warning have been given to said player's box? Why did Mourier say "No Stan, no"? What did he think Stan would do and why? Sadly, since most of the official tennis press has its collective head in the sand not even this line of inquiry can be pursued.

I did see the video of the incident on YouTube and you can hear a voice that sounds like a woman saying something. The first run of it sounds like the person is hissing something at Wawrinka. When he stops play and begins to complain you can hear, with the help of headphones, the word "crybaby" being said by the voice that seems to be female.

Thanks for taking the time to write such thoughtful responses and pull the veil back a bit on "journalistic ethics".

Randy Burgess said...

Absolutely agree, getting punished by lack of access is a huge problem. Many years ago I had a heated argument with a police beat reporter over why she wasn't looking into a prisoner's claim that they had been framed. I couldn't do it because it was her beat. Sure, many such claims are bogus, but as we all know, some are very real. Bad arrests do happen. And it wouldn't have taken her much time to check it out. But she laughed scornfully and taunted me as if she were a cop herself, saying no one who gets arrested is ever innocent.

Because of course if she ever did look into it, her police sources would cut her off and she literally would not be able to do her job. Someone else would have to replace her and there would go her police beat career. It was a real case of Stockholm syndrome.

Along those lines - it wasn't a question of bucking a source, but it was still brave - I admired Ben Rothenberg's willingness to report on Neal Harman's plagiarism. Doing so earned him serious hate from Neil's fans, but it was the right thing to do. If journalists don't occasionally police each other, no one else will.

Karen said...

Many tennis journos have always tried to get into the Federer camp. This is not the first time that they have taken a swing at Mirka. They will usually fail. I don't know which Fed fans you follow Savannah, but if any fed fan is taking a whack at Mirka then I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that they are not Fed fans. I am a Fed fan and I hold Mirka in the highest regard, sometimes much higher than Fed. She has always carried herself with dignity, which is not what I can say for many other WAGS out there. That woman sat down at Wimbledon for 4 hours carrying 2 children inside of her and never took a toilet break. If there is one person who is suited to tell someone to man up it is Mirka.

I find it funny that you are actually crediting John McEnroe of all people for supposedly going against the grain and talking about something that allegedly happened. Seriously, John McEnroe who can't even seem to remember who won what title and when and can't even be bothered to provide commentary on matches that are being played without first of all bringing up his own gloried career.

Finally, British journalists or rather men with typewriters are notoriously sexist in the way they view women in sports, whether they are athletes or the wives of athletes. I would take whatever is being said by any British journos with a grain of salt. After all they are known for stealing other people's writings and ideas.

Savannah said...

JMac has many faults but in this situation he was the only establishment person to confirm what was rapidly becoming fact on Twitter. Sometimes you have to give the devil his due.

As for the Brits and the men who write their sports coverage you're correct but again in this situation they're doing their jobs and reporting on something that happened right in front of many people. That the ATP has suddenly removed the original video that was the source of most conclusions reached by fans and press alike is, shall we say, interesting.

There is a good article by a British WAG on what it's like to be the wife of a major sports figure. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11237843/Mirka-Federer-has-bosoms-of-steel-you-try-being-married-to-Roger.html

And most of the people disrespecting Mirka are not associated with the tennis press from what I see. They're on fansites and posting comments on the Daily Fail. Anyone taking swings at her can't know anything about Federer's career.

Randy Burgess said...

Just read that piece on Mirka in the Telegraph. Love it. The only thing is, it makes me worry about what will happen once Federer quits tennis - there is a line in there about how cranky & stubborn ex-sports stars can be, but that they ignore spouses' unmet needs to their peril. I hope Roger is smart enough & loyal enough to give Mirka whatever time & attention & support she wishes after he shuts down his pro career. As I remember Pete Sampras managed the transition to a quiet private life pretty well, so maybe there's hope for Roger.

Savannah said...

That part disturbed me too. I don't see Federer wanting to coach so I guess his name next to Godsick's on their new PR venture will keep him connected to the sport. The great ones of a sport - Michael Jordan comes to mind - can't teach what they did.

kraa said...

Sampras is not the best example here. He only started dating his current wife in the last 2-3 years of his career. During his prime when he was really obsessed with winning more GS's than anyone else he had a different girlfriend whom he dumped quickly once he realised it's time to start looking for a life after tennis.

Most great players have stayed involved with a sport in some capacity and Roger probably won't be an exception. Sometimes it takes a long time before they want to do something with the sport again. Lendl was away for 15 years or so.