Detroit Lions perspective: Is the media friend or foe?

The fanbase of the Detroit Lions is blessed to have some talented and dedicated members of the media to provide them with quality information. Is there a point in time when that asset becomes a liability?

Do not be caught off guard this year when the Detroit Lions are seen successfully battling for command of their division late into December!

When you first read that sentence, your mind makes an immediate decision. You agree with that statement, you disagree or want to learn more in order to make up your mind. The noteworthy element is that you do not consider, “That sounds kind of…combative.”

It is well known that football has long been compared to the military. The terms borrowed from armed conflict are familiar. The offense attacks the defensive positions. The defense takes those positions to protect their home turf, known as an end zone. A great passing game is an aerial attack. The gridiron is described as a field of battle. Players are gladiators, warriors, soldiers. You can have a bomb. See a blitz. Use a formation. Linemen battle in the trenches, reminiscent of World War I trench warfare. If the defense is not positioned properly at the beginning of a play, they can be penalized for lining up in the neutral zone. Teams striving to gain field position has been likened to armies battling to occupy real estate.

Although it’s wholehearted support of America’s military continues, only recently has the NFL begun to migrate away from the association with open warfare on the field as described in this 2009 article from the Washington Post.

George Carlin famously pointed out the militaristic nature of football as compared to the passive nature of baseball.

But there are real-world correlations and considerations.

In World War II, US submarines used a tactic called an “end around”, a term borrowed from football, to attack enemy convoys. After a submerged night attack on a convoy, an American sub would surface where it could run at much higher speeds on diesel engines to circle to the front of the convoy where it would position itself to submerge, run on batteries and attack again.

Have you ever wondered why submarines are known as the silent service?

Andrew J. May was a Congressman that served as Chairman of the Committee On Military Affairs. In 1943, he toured the Pacific Theater and attended a number of briefings. Most of the news was decidedly not good. During one of these meetings, he learned about a rare success that the United States was enjoying. It seemed that the Japanese anti-submarine warfare was almost completely ineffective. Between World Wars I and II, the Japanese submarines only had a depth capability of 45 meters or about 150 feet. For some reason, they assumed that American boats had the same limitation. When they attacked an American sub, they set their depth charges quite shallow.

To evade, US subs simply dove to a depth of 300 feet and safely escaped to fight again.

Anxious to give the country some good news and careless beyond belief, when Mays returned to Washington, he held a press conference where he told the assembled reporters, “Don’t worry about our submariners; the Japanese are setting their depth charges too shallow.”

The media promptly reported the good news.

Immediately, the Japanese corrected their mistake. An estimated eight submarines and 800 men were lost.

Loose lips sink ships.

But remember, this is about Detroit Lions Football.

Ask yourself this one thing: Do you believe that a team can divulge information to its opponent that can give a competitive advantage to that other team or even affect the outcome of a game?

My short answer is yes.

Imagine if the opponent had a copy of the playbook and knew what every play call would be? Imagine if the opponent knew your game plan? That was the running joke during the Lions disastrous, winless 2008 season. Opposing teams would bark out the Lions play before the ball was snapped. In addition to a serious lack of talent on the field, the Lions were completely predictable.

When Joe Lombardi served as the Lions offensive coordinator, the struggle to move the ball was painful to watch. Then, in an interview before the Super Bowl that winter, Drew Brees said,

“Listen, you could watch a Detroit game from this year in front of me right now, I could call 95% of the plays,” Brees said last week at the Super Bowl in Arizona. “Absolutely. Probably 70% of them before you even hit the play button. Just by looking at the formation, ‘All right, it’s this.’  -Drew Brees, 2015

The next year, Golden Tate expressed open frustration as he accused the opposing players of calling out the Lions plays.

The NFL is unforgiving to predictability.

In 2007, the New England Patriots were accused of illegally videotaping the New York Jets defensive coaches signals in a scandal that became known as Spygate. Belichick was fined the league maximum of $500,000, the Patriots were fined an additional $250,000 and they were forced to forfeit their first-round draft pick in 2008. All because of an attempt to gather information.

That is a significant punishment to risk absorbing if knowledge is not important!

This brings us to our Detroit sports media. Their job is to obtain information. A local Lions beat writer for one of the big publications has said on many occasions that he is not a fan of the team. He would rather, win or lose, be able to write a good story.

How do you feel about that?  At first, I did not care. I still think that this writer produces some of the most solid, unbiased content that the bigger media outlets offer.

Then, I began to wonder if there was a risk with that perspective.

Another aspect of this topic then came up. I was discussing various beat writer’s qualities with a fan. He told me that a different beat writer had responded to his question about the media’s persistence in asking Jim Caldwell about injuries when the known response would be “Check the report”. The answer had seemed to come across as condescending and dismissive. It was as if the reporter was telling the fan, “That’s what reporters do. What do you expect? Deal with it.” The undertone seemed to be that the effort to obtain information was the job, not the actual edification of the fan base.

That exchange made me think. If certain members of the media are not fans and have openly admitted that they care more about the story than the team winning, what would they do if they uncover information that is a good story but places the Lions at a competitive disadvantage? Would they print said compromising information?

I wondered out loud. The fan, whose opinion I respect, deadpanned, “In a heartbeat.”

What if that information costs the Lions a game? What if that game is the difference between making the playoffs or having home field advantage?

Would fans rather have the information or a win?

You can rightly fault Andrew May for divulging information that led to hundreds of American sailors deaths. That data became deadly dangerous. When? Only after publishing. By whom? The media. The publishers placed story over the home team’s success. Or in this case, lives.

How much responsibility belonged to those who printed, published, and dispersed that information?

Fans may become frustrated with the lack of information or stale cliche’s that players and coaches provide. Certainly, the media expresses aggravation at times.

Intentionally absurd media also frustrates fans. Editors place these so-called stories into the sports scene for effect. Their purpose is to rile fans up. The resulting content leads to income. Advertisements for the paper and banners on web pages create that income. That, to me, is an enormous waste of talent and time. It distracts and alienates a very loyal fan base. Better to put out quality content and the paper might just find circulation increases.

The problem is, irrational content dilutes the integrity of the beat writer as well as their publication and that is unfortunate.

I am all for an honest article, even if negative or harsh. Am I seeing the same issues as others see? I want to see an article that brings into focus some real weakness. Give me validation. Make no mistake, the Detroit Lions are not perfect. If so, they would win every game by shutout, including the Super Bowl! I can live with imperfect. We all see the need for improvements. I enjoy having discussions with other fans about those things. Just make the articles responsible. Please.

Are the fans at fault?

In this social media-driven society, fans want more and more and more information. The savvy fans want intimate details. It is intellectually satisfying. Who would not love to be involved in the draft selection process? Imagine being part of the conversations in the months leading up to the draft. Oh, to be invited into the Lions war room (there we go again!) on draft day! That would be awesome!

The Patriots have become models of secrecy with regard to team issues. Concurrently, they have become models of success on the field.

Things began to change with the Detroit Lions starting from the days when Martin Mayhew became general manager of the team. There was significantly less discussion about injuries, team plans, thoughts, or team direction. Information was even scarcer after Bob Quinn became general manager. Detroit Lions Head Coach Matt Patricia seems to have completed the process of communicating to the players the importance of safeguarding information. You can hear the players voices echo in unison through Allen Park, “There is no last year. There is only this year.”.

Everyone appears to be on the same page, protecting information like it is a military secret.

Ask yourself this though: If you could read some really great inside, tactical information but knew that the publishing of that could or would lead to a Lions loss, would you want that published?

For me? No way!

I suspect that most fans would prefer success for the Lions over their personal desire for a glimpse behind the curtain.

IF the media has the ability to actually affect the outcome of a game based on the information that they publish, do they THEN also have a responsibility to the team or to the story?

IF the media affects the competitive balance of a football game, does the fan base THEN need to choose to not ask for or expect that information in order to give their home team the greatest chance of success?

Is there a correlation between the lack of public information and success on the field aside from the Patriots?

There are countless ways to learn about the Lions without the need to have a media personality to divulge valuable secrets. The late Tom “Killer” Kowalski was brilliant in breaking down film for fans in a time before it was mainstream, explaining why a certain play worked or did not because the right guard missed his block or whatever. It was a great classroom and I still miss it.

Fortunately, there are scores of great beat writers for the Detroit Lions that are also fans of the team, starting with our own Logan Lamorandier of The Lion Lowdown. Erik Schlitt, Bryce Rossler, Jeff Risdon, and Scott Bish of The Lions Wire consistently provide substantive, relevant content as fans of the team. Kent Lee Platte has brought pro level scouting to us mere mortals. There are many others. Thousands of Lions fans gather on Twitter to share ideas and thoughts on the team. Many of these dedicated writers fill the tasks that Killer once did and I for one really appreciate their efforts.

Just observe the next time that Matt Patricia or Bob Quinn deflects a question. Especially one that you might really want to know. Stop then and ask yourself, “Does the Lions next opponent want to to know the answer too?”

Follow Lion Lowdown on Twitter @LionLowdown or Bruce Walker @Smoke25

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