Shirley Povich showed us how it should be done

Shirley Povich showed us how it should be done

Sadly, we now live in a time when reporters are afraid to ask tough questions because they might lose their press credentials.

Too many reporters skate around the tough questions so they will not be signaled out and sent to their rooms. If you don’t report how the institution likes, then you might not get to report at all.

No, this is not about CNN’s Jim Acasta and the White House. It is about college and pro sports. It’s about the NFL. It’s about the Chicago Bears.

While it might not seem like a huge deal, an incident with the Bears last week highlighted the way the gutless media can be pushed around.

The Bears put their foot down on a pair of television stations to demand that they stop showing footage of kicker Cody Parkey practicing at Soldier Field.

Parkey was coming off a dreadful game. He missed two extra points and two short field goals — all four of them clinking off an upright of the goalpost — in a home game against Detroit.

The media made kind of a big deal about Parkey never actually practicing at the team’s home stadium, which is about 40 miles through heavy traffic away from the Bears’ training facility.

Whether it was their own move or a response to some bad publicity, the Bears finally sent Parkey, who signed a lucrative free agent contract to join the Bears in the offseason, down to Solider Field to get in some kicks.

That was big news in Chicago, where the Bears are once again relevant after a long period of hibernation. Because it was such a big story, two television stations sent helicopters above Soldier Field to capture a quick video of Parkey practicing along with his holder and long snapper.

It wasn’t a hard-hitting piece. It was just a fun, little story that had the city and its fanbase buzzing.

Bears legend Jim McMahon even saw the news, and he tweeted a photo of how he handled a helicopter flying over the team practice when he was getting ready for Super Bowl XX. Yes, McMahon mooned the helicopter.

The Bears, though, didn’t like the great publicity. They ordered the television stations to immediately take the video down from their social media sites and to never show it on television again.

The flyovers, the Bears said, violated the team’s media practice policy.

Instead of flipping the Bears the proverbial bird, the stations did exactly what the Bears said. The stations didn’t want their reporters to face losing their press credentials.

The stations bowed to the team like it had real power over what they could show. The White House would not even be that bold.

While being told of the situation during an appearance on the Waddle and Silvy radio show on ESPN Chicago, national writer/television personality Michael Wilbon reacted the way every good journalist should have. He was pissed.

“You’re not part of the team,” Wilbon said of the television stations. “You’re not there to be approved by the team.”

Then, Wilbon told Tom Waddle and Mark Silverman about the great Shirley Povich. In addition to being the father of Maury Povich, Shirley Povich was a legendary sportswriter and columnist for the Washington Post.

He wrote right up until his death at the age of 92 in 1998.

Povich butted heads with the Washington Redskins owner and founder George Preston Marshall over the team’s all-white roster.

In one of Povich’s stories, he delivered what was quite possibly the best line ever written by a sportswriter.

“Jim Brown, born ineligible to play for the Redskins, integrated their end zone three times yesterday.”

If that’s not the best, then maybe this one is:

“The Redskins colors are burgundy, gold and Caucasian.”

Marshall sued Povich, and lost. He also pulled his press credentials at least once.

“He was kicked out. He was told his credential was revoked by the Redskins,” Wilbon said of Povich. “And the greatest is to go to the library and the vault and see Shirley Povich’s columns when he was banned saying, ‘From the way it looked on Channel 9 …’”

When the Redskins took away his access, Povich basically said, “If you didn’t like my writing with credentials, then you really won’t like how I write without credentials.”

That is the same message every reporter should send in response to any threats from a professional, college or high school team. Or any organization.

Reporters and columnists like Povich are, sadly, very few and far between.

Too many of today’s sportswriters are afraid to go out of bounds.

Remember former Associated Press writer Steven Wilstein? He is the guy who was shunned by his baseball writing colleagues for pointing out that slugger Mark McGwire was had a bottle of Androstenedione in his locker during his home run chase with Sammy Sosa in 1998.

“Andro” was not illegal in baseball at the time. It was in the NFL, Olympics and NCAA, though, and for good reason. It’s appearance in McGwire’s locker should have led the slugger to do some explaining.

Instead, other writers called for Wilstein’s credentials to be stripped. Then they pulled the shade back down over their own eyes as guys like McGwire, Sosa and many other cheaters tarnished our national pastime on their watch.

Instead of following Wilstein’s lead, his colleagues basically yelled, “Hey, shut up, Steve. Now, Mr. McGwire, please tell us more about your natural ability to hit a baseball more than 900 feet.”

Had more reporters not been afraid to ask real questions, maybe the Steroid Era of baseball wouldn’t have lasted so long. Maybe it wouldn’t still be going on.

If reporters weren’t afraid to ask questions that anger the franchise, maybe someone would have asked Ray Lewis exactly how two men ended up dead when they got into a fight with him and his posse outside that Atlanta nightclub in January 2000.

Instead, too many accepted his guilty plea to obstruction of justice in a double murder like it was a parking ticket. Then they helped glorify the linebacker all the way to Canton.

If reporters weren’t afraid to lose their press pass, maybe we would have a writer ask a Dallas Cowboys lineman what it’s like to block for Ezekiel Elliott when he knows the running back beat up a woman.

Maybe someone would ask Steeler’s quarterback Ben Roethlisberger about the number of payoffs he made to make sexual assault accusations go away. Ben, is it just the two that became public, or are there more than that?

If they threaten to throw you out for a question like that, who cares? Reporters are supposed to ask tough questions — at the White House and at the stadiums.

When one reporter is thrown out, the next one is supposed to stand up and follow the same line of questioning.

Without tough questions, people get away with bad things, whether that is a horrible trade, domestic violence or overt racism.

Without the persistence of Povich, perhaps the Redskins would have waited even later than 1962 to become the last professional football team to integrate. Maybe the first black player doesn’t arrive in Washington until 1972.

Yet, here we are more than half a century after Povich showed us all how to stand up to the man, and we have TV stations and reporters kowtowing to a team over a quick, innocent video of a practice field goal.

If they will fall for the little things, then they have no chance when it comes to the big things.

If you’re a journalist and that doesn’t enrage you, there is something wrong.

You need to look yourself in the mirror and ask, “What would Shirley Povich do?”

— Bill Foley, who was threatened with pulled press credentials multiple times, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. Check out his NFL picks on Thursdays. 1 comment

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  • Norman Cohen
    January 21, 2019, 8:34 pm

    Povich also wrote: "Four hundred and fifty years after Columbus discovered America, baseball discovered the Negro."


    "The million to one shot came in. Hell froze over. A month of Sunday’s hit the calendar. Don Larsen pithed a no-hit, no-run, no man reach first base game today…

    He was the champion of the most noteworthy of sports’ moments!


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