One of the stories burning up the airwaves today centers on Renee Gork, an Arkansas radio reporter who was fired after committing the unpardonable sin of wearing a Florida Gators hat to a press conference featuring Arkansas Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino. There may or may not be other circumstances which led to her firing, but here's the key moment in the story:
Petrino commented on Gork's choice of headwear after answering a question she asked.
"And that will be the last question I answer with that hat on," Petrino said.
While there's debate about whether or not Ms. Gork should have been fired, and whether there were other extenuating issues surrounding this, Petrino's shut-down reaction to being confronted with a Gator hat fascinates me.
The question here is, to what extent are sports reporters supposed to buy into the culture of the teams they cover? Should they jump on board (or provoke reaction, as Gork may have done), or stay out of it entirely? Is it proper for a coach to shut down questions from someone simply because they're wearing a rival's logo?
Follow after the jump as we look at how this works in the NHL...
This issue is particularly relevant today, with an article running about the pioneering work that Eric McErlain did with the Washington Capitals to establish guidelines for credentialing bloggers with media-style access to the team. In that instance, the concern is the opposite of the Gork-Arkansas case. Most bloggers are unabashed supporters of the teams they cover, and the direction there is basically to not cheer on press row, dress professionally, and don't ask for autographs from the players.
There is one aspect of NHL culture that closely parallels the Arkansas situation, however. In an effort to support respect for the team, many NHL franchises have gigantic logos in the middle of the dressing room, and forbid visitors from daring to tread upon it. SI's Michael Farber wrote about it in Ottawa, and a Minnesota reporter ran afoul of this practice in Pittsburgh.
Last season, I myself wandered into the Nashville Predators' room after a home game, looked around for someone to interview, and was startled by a hand on my shoulder, pulling me back.
"Watch out, don't step on the logo," a PR rep told me.
"If it's so sacred, what's it doing on the floor?" was my reply.
If the team logo is such a hallowed image, then why is it taking up most of the available space in the locker room? I certainly don't ever recall seeing the American flag portrayed in such a fashion.
Most importantly, to what extent am I, or an actual trained journalist, supposed to care about team traditions like this in order to do the job we're there for? After a big game when you're trying to work your way around a crowded room, why are grown adults playing the old "step on a crack, break your mother's back" routine? Does a team's enforcement of such traditions establish a tone with the working media that ultimately skews objectivity and blunts criticism?
I'd say so.