April 06, 1997

Ever since a reporter from the Athens Tablet first pulled a
scroll from his tunic to interview a wrestler at Olympia, the
relationship between the media and athletes has been in decline.
The deterioration had been gradual until recent years, when open
acrimony broke out, most notably in pro baseball, basketball and
football. The sudden rush of bad blood was the result of
oversensitivity and boorishness by athletes, undersensitivity
and sometimes unprofessional conduct by reporters, big money,
the spread of objective journalism to the sports section, and
talk radio.

Happily, golf, which I frequently cover, remained relatively
untouched--until now. Lately I've seen disturbing signs of
erosion on the PGA Tour, a trend commissioner Tim Finchem is
wisely trying to head off by telling his golfers that a misquote
here or a criticism there is a small price to pay for all the
free publicity they're receiving. Recently Brad Faxon fretted in
this space over the signs of trouble between the press and the
players (Golf Plus, Feb. 24). I think Faxon's one of the Tour's
good guys, but he committed a cardinal sin of journalism. One of
his examples of abuse by the media was the publishing of a
controversial quote attributed to Tour player Mike Sullivan last
year. Faxon said Sullivan's remarks were "overheard" by an
eavesdropping reporter and "printed without ever talking to the
player." I'm certain that was not the case because I'm that

In response to my question about NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf's
refusal to stand for the national anthem, Sullivan blurted out
the kind of four-alarm quote that prompts me to proceed with
caution: I pulled out a notepad and made a show of jotting down
the answer--a red flag to give Sullivan the chance to beg off.
He didn't, though he later told me that he hadn't seen the
notepad. Faxon wrote about the incident without checking with me
or Sullivan, thus failing to get either side of the story and
committing one of the sins that make the players howl.

Contrary to popular belief, most sportswriters have hearts. But
when the players treat us like lepers, they shouldn't expect us
to lick their boots. As compassion and mutual respect evaporate,
our stories are more likely to become coldly objective, and the
gulf only widens.

Faxon favors access but says that many of his peers disagree. I
imagine that if first-graders could vote, milk would be banned
from lunchrooms. Fortunately, principal Finchem knows what's
best for his tykes.

Larry Guest is a sports columnist with the Orlando Sentinel.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO Jack Nicklaus knows the media's value. [Back view of Jack Nicklaus talking to reporters]

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