Marcell Frazier is the sort of athlete I legitimately enjoy following on Twitter.
He uses his account — @FederalFrazier, for those who are interested — to give his followers windows into his personal thoughts and feelings on wide-ranging subjects, not just football. I don’t profess to know him personally but, from the glimpses he allows to the world, he seems to be intelligent, intellectually curious, opinionated and strong in his convictions.
Add to that the fact that his path to Missouri was long and circuitous, beset as it was by eligibility and injury setbacks and a run through junior college. Add to that the fact that, after being stuck in depth-chart purgatory for much of last season, he emerged as a potent pass-rushing counterbalance to Charles Harris toward the end of the year and seems poised to put in an even more successful senior season.
In short, he’s exactly the type of person you’d like to interview often if you’re a Missouri beat writer.
Except...wait a second...
I will not be available to any local media this season. I gain nothing from it. I am still an amateur, not binded to do interviews (yet).— Marcell Frazier (@FederalFrazier) June 20, 2017
Frazier didn’t elaborate on the reason for this when he posted it yesterday but, if his tweets from the day before are any indication, it probably has to do with the Jeremiah Tilmon arrest and citation on suspicion of being a minor in possession of intoxicants.
Basically, public underage drinking.
“The writers get such a kick when MU athletes are arrested. Almost as though it's a chance for them to reinforce their beliefs,” Frazier tweeted.
“Teenager with a beer is covered like watergate. Frats spiking drinks, committing assault, and encouraging underage drinking is a non story,” he followed up.
“Your fake outrage is showing,” ended the trilogy, though he later deleted that tweet.
Bill Connelly already had a good discussion on this in Tuesday’s links post, so I’m not going to rehash his points.
As a former sportswriter who covered the team, though, I feel like Frazier is woefully misguided when it comes to the object of his ire.
First, to the sentiment of the first tweet — “The writers get such a kick when MU athletes are arrested.” And, from his subsequent local media blackout, I can only assume that “local writers” is implied.
He is incorrect.
Two of the most miserable weeks of my life centered around the high-profile legal troubles of Dorial Green-Beckham and Maty Mauk.
I know nobody throws pity parties for journalists and my troubles seem laughably tame in the grand scheme of things, but I worried so much during those periods — about getting everything right, getting everything fast, not missing anything, presenting the entire context of the events, not getting scooped by anyone — that it had actual physical effects on me. My stomach hurt all the time. I had constant headaches. I could not sleep.
Yeah, sounds like I was getting a real kick out of my beliefs being reinforced.
The minor offenses, while not as pressure-packed, are arguably even more frustrating. They aren’t nearly as important as arrests for more serious offenses, but you still have to spend hours you didn’t budget into your busy schedule doing your due diligence on them.
You still don’t want to get anything wrong. You still want to present the entire picture to the best of your knowledge.
You think I was gleefully rubbing my hands together saying, “Man, I can’t wait until this story on Levi Copelin making threatening statements at the student ID center drops?”
You think I was salivating at the opportunity to put Terry Beckner Jr. running into a fence and not reporting it on blast?
No. I was not.
Let me state once again for emphasis: We. Do. Not. Enjoy. Writing. These. Stories.
We don’t hate it either. We just have to. It’s a part of the job.
So why do we have to? Why is it part of the job? Why is it news that Tilmon drank alcohol even though he wasn’t 21?
People do that all the time, right? I know I did. Here are two reasons me drinking underage didn’t make the Orlando Sentinel, though.
First, the less important reason. I didn’t then drive in my car. That’s why Tilmon was pulled over in the first place. For “failing to drive within a single lane.”
Second, the more important reason. Nobody cares about me. A ton of people care about Jeremiah Tilmon. Therefore, a public misstep of his is newsworthy.
It’s the double-edged sword of being a major Division-I athlete, someone who a major research university is potentially pumping tens of thousands of dollars into in the form of scholarships, equipment, lodging, meals, travel, etc. (and players such as Tilmon should have the opportunity to make more money on top of that...but that’s another subject...) over the next however many years he’s on campus.
When Tilmon does something good, hundreds of thousands of people care about it. So, when he does something not so good, that many people deserve to know about it as well.
When I do something good, like 14 people care. If you’d like to inform them when I do something not so good, please do.
There is something to be said about the outsize interest involved in major college athletes, but that’s a discussion about the outsize interest major college athletes take up in the public discourse when compared to, say, the plant sciences department at major colleges. That’s not a media issue.
And the “cover it when the frat guys do it” line of thinking — while valid — would hold a little more validity if, as Bill pointed out, the papers didn’t cover fraternity misdeeds extensively already.
You know what? If you want more coverage of frats spiking drinks and committing assaults, then call them out by name. With evidence. And police reports. It will most certainly be covered. There is not some grand, Columbia media conspiracy to prop up the Greek system and tear down the athletic department.
Which brings me to the “local” component. Why is the media blackout only for local outlets?
Things like this matter, both nationally and locally.
The local media are a convenient punching bag, because they’re there every day. During the past two seasons, especially, it’s been easy for players to see the media as adversarial. Missouri has gone 9-15. There have more losses than wins. There have been more unpleasant times than pleasant. The local media is there for all of them.
In an age in which media opportunity clampdowns have made it nearly impossible for college writers to have any sort of meaningful relationship with the athletes they cover, pretty much the only picture these athletes get of the local media is the swarm of locusts that descend upon them at every media day and after every game.
The national media isn’t there for that. There are two poles for national media interest in Missouri: far-ranging, serious, Outside the Lines type stories; and breezy questions at SEC Media Days, or in the lead-up to games on ESPN or CBS.
They’re either The Man or the fun uncle.
They swoop in when it serves them, then swoop out to go cover something else. And, when a team is struggling like Missouri, the “swooping in” portion becomes less prevalent.
National media doesn’t get to write fantastic feature pieces on Missouri players, coaches and issues like Dave Matter did on Michael Scherer, or Gabe DeArmond did on the move to the SEC, or Tod Palmer did on Craig Kuligowski, or Blake Toppmeyer did on Josh Heupel and the run-pass option.
Or Joe Vozzelli did on...Marcell Frazier.
I am fiercely protective of the importance of an independent, local press when it comes to covering college football programs. Yeah, they’re not perfect. But they are damn good at their jobs, they care about what they do, and they are not out to “get” anybody.
So it dismays me to see that, not only is Frazier taking this hard line with local media for some reason, but he’s being cheered on by some Missouri fans for doing so.
If you’re a Missouri fan, do you want only good news about your team? You want the only athletic department-issued press releases that are becoming more certainly the college sportswriting of the future as the years go on?
Here you go.
Good luck finding out Green-Beckham got dismissed from the team.
And, if every team is just reporting the good news about itself, good luck finding negative ammunition about your rival teams, Missouri fans. Then that becomes purely the realm of internet chat-room fodder, which we all know is a conducive environment for the unfiltered truth.
I understand the frustration. It was one I shared at various times during my sportswriting career.
But to take it out on the local media is misguided. They’re not the enemy. Neither is the national media. Nobody is. It’s just the way of the world.
Frazier has every right not to talk to the local media. He is absolutely correct that he doesn’t have any obligation to.
It’s just a shame that he doesn’t feel as if he gains anything from his interactions with the people most devoted to covering his team and its players, coaches and fortunes.
It’s a relationship that can be very rewarding.