Here's how the sportswriting world, and journalism, have changed during my career. Illinois has two marquee players: quarterback Juice Williams and receiver Arrelious ``Rejus'' Benn. Juice got hurt on the first play against Illinois State Saturday, and Benn failed to catch at least one pass for the first time in his college career. This is pretty significant stuff to me, even if Juice's injury clearly was minor.
And yet, they were not made available after the game, so we were unable to talk to them. I don't know whose decision this was, coach Zook or his media relations staff. And while something about it didn't seem right, I was relieved, in a way. Because I had to file a story and notes 37 minutes later, including a five- to 10- minute trip back to the pressbox, and had no time to wait, or waste.
It was yet another reminder of how the business has changed, and how the relationships between media and athletes have changed. There's so much more media now, and we get so much less real reporting done because of adversarial concerns and micro-managing.
In the old days, we just went into the locker room. And far from being worried about saying the wrong thing, the athletes seemed interested in letting people know what was on their minds. I looked forward to talking to Bears such as Dan Hampton and Jimbo Covert after games, and I think they did, too.
And even in college, on my Notre Dame beat, you could go in the locker room, and the players seemed to understand that the spotlight came with responsibility. Even in the dark days, when Gerry Faust's coaching career was fraught with tough losses, the players answered questions. I always figured that helped prepare players for life after college, whether they were going to play pro football or deal with tough situations in other parts of their life. Many Irish players I covered--people like Steve Beuerlein, Allen PInkett, Tim Brown--dealt with some hard questions, and they turned out all right. Maybe talking to us helped. I can't imagine that it hurt.
Of course, the lockerrooms are closed by virtually all the college teams I encounter these days, with a few exceptions. And it makes sportswriting more difficult and less difficult at the same time. It's harder to get questions answered. But there's less work because there are fewer interview opportunities. And if the product suffers, the office tends to want our stories sooner and shorter, anyway.
In a way, I understand why schools and teams fret about access and spin-control. They're faced with more and more media, who are less and less trust-worthy. And they're more interested in TV and radio sound bites, which tend to avoid controversy. I just can't help but think our lives were richer when we trusted each other more, and didn't take ourselves so seriously. It certainly was a lot more fun and interesting.
Hope you're feeling better, Juice. And sorry about your streak ending, Rejus. But as both of you often mention, it's all about the win. Enjoy it.