The Players’ Tribune, a first-of-its-kind media platform whose writers are exclusively current and former professional athletes, aspires to bring “fans closer to the games they love than ever before.” They’re lying.
Gone are the days of journalistic meddling, of careerism, when writers would hunt ravenously for stories with utter disregard for the individuals they’d soon be trashing. No longer must athletes fling open the gates to their personal lives to interlopers. Just ask Marshawn Lynch.
The internet turned Marshawn Lynch into the visored, tight-lipped superhero to Roger Goodell’s villain, but we would be remiss to overlook Lynch’s vanguardism.
As his teammates stood by his side as Lynch parried the same prepackaged rubbish that reporters lobbed up to him week after week, I could not help but feel that there was a mutinous undercurrent about their performance. Whether it was previously latent I don’t know, but it was there, and it was going to detonate, with Lynch as its standard-bearer.
There is a tectonic shift in sports journalism — and all journalism — that has drastically altered the status quo, busting the monopoly of the blue-bloods and household names. Call it democratization. For a time, the newcomers who gained entry into that club, while they represented the quintessential little guy, were still journalists. Now athletes, once at the mercy of the pen, have thrown themselves into the mix.
Hence The Players’ Tribune.
It launched Oct. 2, the brainchild of Derek Jeter, it was unprecedented in both mission and scope. Since then, scores of athletes have graced its pages to much fanfare and critical acclaim, offering the masses an undiluted glimpse into the minds of their idols. Not since the advent of the internet itself has there been such a momentous change in the way we view athletes and sports in general.
Neither Lynch nor Jeter, however, is quite the trailblazer each has been proclaimed. Athletes have always been outspoken, even eccentric (see: Dennis Rodman and his BFF, Kim Jong Un), but never did they have the opportunity to flesh out their thoughts and feelings in a forum run by other athletes. Those who wished to be heard outside the confines of a post-game interview penned op-eds or wrote books — occasionally employing ghostwriters in their stead — voicing their opinions the old-fashioned way. Perhaps the best-known and best-regarded of that generation is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The sexagenarian is a Twitter sensation, boasting a following of nearly 1.7 million strong, but that is not what makes him remarkable. Abdul-Jabbar is somewhat of an enigma. He is skeptical of MLK Day, a stalwart of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and ardent defender of cops; when former Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson resigned last September over an email that he himself determined was racist, presumably because he wanted to preempt a Sterling-esque fiasco, Abdul-Jabbar reached a very different conclusion: that Levenson was “a businessman asking reasonable questions about how to put customers in seats.”
His input is valuable because it is from a vantage to which we are typically not exposed. Abdul-Jabbar is an insider, but he is much more than a lanky frame with a silky hook shot. And he’s not alone.
I accuse The Players’ Tribune of lying not because their slogan is a lie in itself, but rather because it conceals their true motivation, which is not unlike Abdul-Jabbar’s. With The Players’ Tribune now fully operational, let us hope that legions of Abdul-Jabbars emerge from the woodwork — not as athletes, but as human beings.