Who's in control? Not coaches
As media permeate sports even further, athletes are reporting bosses' every move, too
There was a great Diva Meltdown moment between the French soccer star and the French coach a few days ago, but then, you knew that already. You knew it because if you're following the World Cup at all, you already know that Nicolas Anelka was tossed from the French team for insubordination and shouting obscenities at coach Raymond Domenech.
After which the French team refused to practice.
After which the French coach called said refusal imbecilic.
After which the whole thing went blooey.
And everybody who cares knew all of that almost immediately. Why? Because the information was available -- to the universe -- right after it happened.
In other words, it was your basic Shaq or Mark Cuban sort of deal. It's just out there right away by whatever means available. Reactions, corrections and apologies to follow only if necessary.
That much no longer is news. (Neither is the French team as a World Cup concern after it was eliminated following Tuesday's play.) What made this particular exchange interesting, beyond the obvious, was that most of it occurred behind closed doors. And when I say "interesting," I mean that the explosive conversation between Anelka and Domenech was a team secret for about 47 seconds, after which it was spun out into the public vortex and eagerly devoured.
And when I say "closed doors," I mean that there aren't any.
Anelka later expressed dismay that his confrontation with Domenech became worldwide information so quickly ("That should never have come out of the changing rooms," the player intoned), but that only proves that the man hasn't been paying attention. The truth is that almost nothing that happens in Vegas ever stays in Vegas anymore. Nothing that happens inside a locker room is a secret for long.
Perhaps coincidentally, this might be the worst "great" era ever for coaches. It's the relative worst time to be a Domenech of the world, not an Anelka, with all due respect. The players are fine. They'll do what they do, and every time they throw a fit or cheat or misbehave, it'll be explained away as their awesome competitiveness and healthy superstar ego temporarily getting the better of them.
But for coaches of all stripes, the sense of control has never been more faint, including control over what gets said or what gets repeated. And they are right to suspect that they are losing the grip on their minions. The coaches so rarely run the show.
What does it say that the coaches of both NBA finalists, Phil Jackson in Los Angeles and Doc Rivers in Boston, aren't even sure they want to come back for another go-round? What, winning all the time is too stressful? Even with closer scrutiny of their specific cases and their justifications, it's strange.
Mike Brown got run out of Cleveland despite winning 60 games this past season, and although people argue passionately over how much Brown brought to the table as the Cavs' coach, the larger perception was that the man had virtually no control. LeBron James held the power.
Again, it isn't all breaking news. Coaching is inherently stressful. The twist, really, is that the coaches no longer even control the flow of information. The information flows, all right -- just not under any jurisdiction.
It could be Charlie Villanueva, who sparked the NBA's revision of media rules by tweeting from the locker room of a Bucks game at halftime last year. It could be Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton, who basically used tweets and texts to argue their cases after the gun incident that ultimately led to Arenas' suspension in Washington. It could be Curt Schilling, who announced his 2009 retirement from baseball on his blog.
Gone are the days of tightly controlled "news." And forget the fiery halftime dressing-down that stays "within the family." With a few exceptions, there is no family. The media are the family.
About the time that the NBA tried this past fall to put the kibosh on its players' texting and tweeting during NBA evenings, you realized how fully the media had become the message. Reporters are purveyors of information, sure, but so are players. So are coaches, for that matter, if they choose to use the myriad communication tools available to them. So are fans. So is anyone with a cell phone that can capture images, video or sound.
The media are everywhere, all the time. The concept no longer exists as it once was imagined. The media are innumerable; they come from all corners; they either edit and censor, or they edit nothing and censor nothing.
Shaquille O'Neal has almost 3 million followers on Twitter. He doesn't need the "media" to break news.
Partly because of this, coaching has seldom looked more difficult. It also has never been more lucrative. Coaches in the major pro sports industries in the U.S. can make the kind of money that sets up their families' families for a long time. But they also are finding that less and less of what they might consider traditional rules of engagement apply -- and that goes double for what they say and how quickly and exhaustively it gets cut up for public consumption.
Will they stop going for jobs? Not on your life. But from Jackson to Rivers and straight on through, coaching the world's elite athletes is a rapidly shifting landscape, and one of the greatest changes is that the jocks are now reporting on you -- and they're not afraid to let the rest of the world know exactly what goes down behind the locker room doors. Fun for us. Not necessarily the dream scenario for the man who would run the show.
Mark Kreidler is a longtime contributor to ESPN.com. His most recent book, "Six Good Innings," was named one of the top 10 sports books of 2009 by Booklist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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