Enterprising journalists can always get a glimpse of press conferences, and many athletes do not share Ms. Osaka’s stress about them. “It’s pretty easy going,” Polish tennis player Iga Swiatek said last week. But while independent journalists can still deliver everything from groundbreaking surveys to commentary, journalism’s role as a conduit for athlete words no longer makes much sense. Ms. Osaka “could do a live Instagram press conference if she wanted to,” her agent, Stuart Duguid, told me.
The ritual is “a relic of a time when they needed the press – when the press was the accepted link between athletes and the public,” Guardian sports reporter Jonathan Liew said in an interview.
But Osaka’s story has a wider resonance because the sports and the media that covers them are often leading indicators of the direction in which we are all headed. In 2007, Hillary Clinton’s main spokesperson Howard Wolfson told me he was concerned about Major League Baseball’s site, MLB.com, and how the league had created a media entity. that she was in total control. Why couldn’t a politician and his campaign do the same, he wondered? It didn’t really work for her, but in 2008 Barack Obama was producing far more compelling videos than anything the networks were doing. In 2016, The Trump Show was the best thing on TV, syndicated to your local cable network.
The assault on independent sports media reached its peak with the 2014 introduction of The Players’ Tribune, with the promise of giving players their own voice. But that effort all but failed, selling to an Israeli media company in 2019. While she did at times publish powerful essays, she mostly had that sterile quality of a glorified press release.
The most successful athlete media ventures have avoided directly tackling journalism. The role model is LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, who spent a decade building a media company that made deals for TV shows and movies with HBO, Netflix, Warner Brothers and others. And at best, these platforms can generate more than what you would get at a press conference. Mr. James built his business, in part, on the idea that athletes would open up to each other, and “didn’t want to be asked questions that everyone should know the answers to,” Josh said. Pyatt, co-director of WME Sports, who has been at the center of building media businesses for athletes.
On a recent episode of “The Shop,” produced for HBO by Mr. James, quarterback Tom Brady acknowledged the wood quality of many athlete’s comments to the press.