Selena Roberts is a brilliant sports columnist, formerly of The New York Times and currently on the back page of Sports Illustrated. Like a lot of extraordinary writers before her, she recently went on television and made the mistake of acting like a fraudulent talking head instead of a brilliant sports columnist.
On the “Costas Now” town hall on the future of media, showing all this month on all 139 versions of HBO, Roberts bemoaned the lack of real media access to athletes these days. She cited how she has to go through layers of people – PR flaks, agents, team management – to interview a professional athlete. Roberts shared her frustration of working on a piece on Lebron James and not being able to get anywhere near him. In the end, Roberts emailed her questions to Lebron’s camp, James recorded his answers on tape and those answers were transcribed back in an email to Roberts.
Selena Roberts talked about wanting “to have a connection with the athlete,” about truly getting to know the athlete and “what’s inside him” before writing her story. Oh, for the good old days of having a beer with Mickey Mantle and not having to deal with all those silly bloggers.
It all sounded lovely on the SI writer’s part…except, of course, that it was all a load of made-for-TV crap. This is what happens when even a singular talent agrees to go on HBO and tell Bob Costas exactly what she thinks Bob Costas wants her to say.
In her five years as a columnist at The New York Times, Selena wrote one article on the New York Islanders.
Game 1 of the first round of the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Islanders at Lightning. Islanders defenseman Eric Cairns has a nightmarish pair of shifts, with two giveaways leading to two goals and a Tampa Bay win. To be clear, Eric had a horrible game at the worst possible time. To be fair, there isn’t a defenseman in the history of the game that hasn’t had one just like it.
For the record, Selena Roberts was not at the game. In the aftermath – her column ran two days later - she did not contact anyone at the Islanders to request Cairns or his head coach on the phone. She did not travel to Tampa Bay for Game 2. You could say Eric Cairns is not Lebron James, but that really wouldn’t be the point, would it? Cairns would have spoken with Roberts on the phone for as long as she would have needed him. I would not have written, or emailed, the answers for him. That’s not how we do it in hockey.
Without speaking to anyone, Roberts decided to use Eric Cairns as Exhibit 1-A for her theory that “the playoffs prove that the embrace of goons is borne of historic habit, not necessity.” Read the whole thing here.
Roberts wrote that Cairns’ performance in the game was “a singular example of goon liability, of enforcer irrelevance, of a sport's cultural ambivalence.”
And yet, Roberts never took the time to meet Cairns, to “have a connection” with him, to see “what’s inside him.” Ever.
Too bad. If nothing else, she would have made a connection with a real unique, loyal and kind person. She would have gotten inside the head of a gentleman who battled from the lowest of the minor leagues to play defense for both the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers.
Selena Roberts didn’t even try to get to know Eric Cairns, despite the fancy garbage she spewed on HBO for Bob Costas.