‘Controversial’ NFL press conference question stirs debate about reporter roles

By Kevin Yanik, Managing Editor

18777128328_e00f85e298_cNFL legend Peyton Manning retired the other day. His retirement press conference in Denver was largely a joyous occasion, as Manning reflected on his 18-year career in the league.

The occasion wasn’t all joyous, though, as USA Today reporter Lindsay Jones asked the “squeaky-clean” Manning about a sexual assault allegation stemming from his days as a quarterback at the University of Tennessee.

Manning answered the question with a few deflecting remarks, and the presser steered back to football from there. But Jones’ question immediately drew ire on Twitter, where the consensus seemed to be how dare Jones taint Manning’s walk-away celebration.

Jones deserves credit for asking the question, though. In a room full of reporters, many of whom have fawned over Manning for years, Jones did her job. She asked the tough question.

But why did Jones have to ask Manning about the allegation there, you might ask? The event was, after all, supposed to be a shining moment for one of the greatest players in NFL history, you might argue.

Jones asked about the allegation because that’s what real reporters do. They ask questions. Real questions. Relevant questions. Tough questions. Questions that publicly warrant answers, even if the answer is like the canned response Manning delivered.

Who knows when reporters would again have access to Manning to even ask the question Jones posed. The guy could decide to move into a cabin in the woods for the rest of his life, denying the media another opportunity.

Reporters should ask tough questions because that’s their job. Unfortunately, too many sports reporters avoid asking the tough questions because they want to stay in the good graces of players and teams. Teams want to protect their own. If reporters  “go rogue” and ask tough questions, there’s a chance reporters may be penalized and have their media credentials revoked.

The reporters at the Manning presser were tasked with asking Manning about his career and the sexual assault allegation. Unfortunately, all but Jones took on the role of puppet in a mostly celebratory event that required at least one tough question.

Photo credit: the past tends to disappear via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Kevin Yanik joined North Coast Media in 2012 and has worked in B2B media for more than seven years in various editorial positions. Kevin is a Cleveland native and a 2006 graduate of John Carroll University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communications.