At this year's Daytona 500, Trevor Bayne shocked the world. Then Sports Illustrated shocked freelancer Tom Bowles by firing him for being a human being.

Over on her Times Union blog, WTEN anchor Lydia Kulbida touched on’s controversial firing of a freelance journalist because he was caught applauding (along with most others in the press box) after underdog Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500.

At issue is the concept that sports reporters are not supposed to be seen “rooting” for athletes. The freelancer in question also posted a defense to his Twitter account that essentially said it doesn’t matter so long as there is no bias reflected in the actual reporting itself.

A lot of pundits are using this to decry a lack of professionalism in sports journalism, and in particular sports reporters acting as fans.

Thing is, I’m not entirely sure this is rooted in anything other than a fantasy obscured by the cigar-smoke of yesteryear. You’ll be hard pressed to find any sports reporting that has ever been as neutral as straight news stories on current events, crime, or any other topic. That’s because at its root, sports journalism is more malleable. Which is as it should be, particularly when it comes to sports like NASCAR, boxing, and Mixed Martial Arts, where the applause and praise is given on the spot to individual achievement and not to the achievement of the individual; an important distinction that sadly the otherwise stalwart Sports Illustrated failed to make in rendering their decision.

Also, it’s a game. It’s always, at its root, a game. No matter how many millions a person is earning, how inspiring a story may be, or how poetically one waxes: it’s games. Competitive, yes, but it’s recreation. While culturally prevalent and necessary, it is not a life and death struggle that effects the day to day life of a city, state, nation, or humanity as a whole.

There is a line, blurred as it may be by an industry that asks reporters to be “neutral and professional” in the press box on Sunday and write a scathingly provocative editorial on Wednesday. I think that line, though, rests with financial means and influence. I don’t think a group of reporters cheering a young kid because he shocked the world crosses it. On the other hand, someone like Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer providing coverage, news, and analysis for teams that also employ him as a consultant absolutely crosses that line. The difference is intent, context, and integrity.

There are standards that need to be upheld, but there are also varying degrees and like everything else in sports journalism, everything is dependent on the circumstances. Tom Bowles, the freelancer in question, was not covering the New York Mets and cheering every time a Met got a hit. He was not at the Super Bowl and hugging his fellow reporters as the final seconds ticked down and his favorite team was given the Lombardi Trophy. He was simply a reporter celebrating a sports moment and, in turn, a sport as a whole. He was not “being a fan” in the press box, he was being a human being that got caught up in a historic moment, no different than the reaction that every single reporter in the press box had during the “Miracle on Ice.”

None of them were fired, so why should Tom Bowles?

Where this crosses the line from silly to sad is that these reporters and pundits who jumped on Bowles are applauding a news organization for not standing by one of its reporters and allowing the loud consternation of a select few contrarians and braggarts to dictate their editorial policy. It is that action taken by Sports Illustrated against their own that is the betrayal of journalistic ethics and a real cause for concern.


Keep an eye on Lydia’s blog, as she’ll have more on this tomorrow.


13 Responses to Sports Illustrated fires freelancer for being human

  1. Rob Madeo says:

    Professionals, whether they be lawyers, archiects, or yes, even sportswriters, maintain and enforce their own set of standards.

    I don’t know where I come down on this, but I do know that a lot of sports journalists are not supporting Mr. Bowles. Maybe it’s because they’ve always felt a responsibility to follow this rule — and he didn’t.

    It would be interesting to hear from Mark McGuire on this, a local authority who — as an unabashed Jets fan — has probably found himself wanting to cheer when he could not.

  2. Roger Green says:

    Seems SI is bending over backwards to appear “fair”, and in doing so, has been terribly irrational.

  3. Tony Barbaro says:

    If bias were the basis for firing reporters, there would be a crapload of jobs open at NBC,CBS,ABC,CNN and FOX after the last presidential election. All except Fox had Obama walking on water and were high fiving each other after the election…Fox was in the fetal position fearing the on coming Apocalypse….

  4. Anne says:

    The PTI guys on ESPN frequently cheer for specific teams and no one seems to care. And it’s Nascar, that isn’t even a sport. Who cares? So he clapped. Maybe he was clapping because the damn thing was finally over!

  5. Chuck Miller says:

    Let’s say that a reporter doesn’t like a team for some reason. Maybe he parked in the wrong spot at the arena and his car got towed, so he decides to take out his frustrations by ripping the team a new one on their game loss that night. The minute a reader believes that a reporter has lost his objectivity in covering a sporting event, then that’s the moment when the reader feels that his or her team or favorite player isn’t getting the respect deserved or earned. It takes into question the objectivity of the story being written.

    Don’t get me wrong. Reporters have their favorite players and teams, and by the same token they have people who have for some reason rubbed them the wrong way. We’re expecting that reporter to give us a fair and unvarnished overview of the sporting event, and we don’t want it to ever appear to be a puff piece, a fan gush, a brickbat or a burial.

  6. Dallas says:

    I have been to a few sports blogging conferences because I run a sports site. I always found it fascinating when I heard the beat writers talk because they said they really didn’t care who won, they just wanted a good story. Seemed impossible to believe but I guess if you do it for a number of years thats the way it goes. I know a guy that started the first real Mets blog a number of years ago is now the MLB beat writer for the Yankees! Generally sports bloggers are very passionate about their team and as more of them are getting credentialed it made for some interesting discussion on how that will change how they cover the team.

  7. Brad says:

    This is a tough line as I knew Bowles through a friend, and he was genuinely a good guy and passionate about the sport. Like Kevin said, it seems to me he was cheering the moment and not the driver himself. If he was wearing an Earnhardt jersey I would understand SI’s position. Rules are rules, but in this case SI went too far.

    It’s sad because ESPN is so far up Duke’s butt it’s comical. Watching the Duke / Clemson game last night, they showed Duke Senior montages between commercial breaks that almost made me sick.

    • Brad - Exactly. I actually started writing about ESPN as an example, but oh boy where the Hell do we even start? Duke, sideline reporters with endorsement deals, et al. It’s to the point where you almost want to just give them the pass of saying “it’s entertainment and we should treat it as such” just to keep from going crazy.

  8. Hal Jordan says:

    Joe Buck practically started chanting “Let’s go, Cards” during the 2006 World Series. If there was any justice in the world, he would be fired. Out of a cannon. Into the sun.

  9. Colleen says:

    He was probably clapping because it was a rookie; not expected to win, but won because he was a very very lucky boy. This is rediculous and I’ll bet a nice lawsuit will garner a hefty sum.

  10. Brad says:

    Kevin – It’s interesting because a lot of media alum went to Syracuse as they have one of, if not the best Communications / Journalism programs in the country. Yet you never hear Sean McDonough or Mike Tirico fawning over Syracuse.

  11. Stacey says:

    I believe SI did the right thing in FIRING someone who was so humanly arrogant to not admit fault when called on a violation (cheering in the press box)….this story would have gone nowhere if Mr. Bowles had simply sad “my bad” instead of twittering away his SI job in response to a challenge. I’m sure there were other reporters cheering but how many would have arrogantly defended their obviously human violation when challenged. – you reap what you tweet

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