Yesterday morning, the Raiders emailed to media members the teams 2015 “Practice Reporting Policy,” a list of rules for writing and tweeting and otherwise posting information from the practice field. It sucks, and you can hardly blame the Raiders. Their policies are generally in line with other NFL teams, including the 49ers.
But make no mistake. It’s a policy that seeks to neuter reporting.
I started covering the Raiders in 2003, and I quickly learned an important rule that, I’m guessing, had been around for years: You could not write about any sort of practice-field gadget play.
Fair enough, right? Halfback passes and fake field goals require an element of surprise to be successful, and if the team (any team) practiced one of those plays, it wanted you to keep your trap shut about it, thank you very much. Occasionally it was hard to figure out if a given play was tricky enough to fall into this category, but generally you could figure it out, and it was a concession that seemed easy to make.
Other than that, most everything was fair game. That feels like Pleistocene of football reporting now.
The Raiders’ email asked that writers ignore not only trick plays, but “any reference to plays run or game strategy. This includes describing formations, personnel groupings (i.e. composition of offensive line),” etc. Another bullet point reads: “Not permitted is the reporting of which players are practicing with individual units (goal line offense, nickel/dime defense, etc.)”
Have you ever read the comments section of an NFL team blog? Before they deteriorate into shouting matches about Obama and guns, fans/readers make it clear they want to know everything about their team. EVERYTHING. No third-string fullback is too marginal, no safety rotation too technical to bore the modern NFL fan.
People who cover the Raiders and 49ers are constantly bombarded with questions about who is getting first-team reps at left guard and how much the defense is blitzing in training camp. The Raiders’ memo suggests that the reporters will know the answers, but will be allowed to pass none of it along to the team’s most loyal followers.
Here’s another rule: “Not permitted is the reporting of practice injuries until the team has provided an official update.”
The coach, it is explained, will discuss said injury after practice. That might be an hour later. Could be 90 minutes in some circumstances. So if Derek Carr (heaven forbid) tears up his knee at the start of practice and leaves on a golf cart in agony – well, guys, help us out here, and just don’t mention it for a while, hmm-kay?
Of course, by the time the coach speaks, Carr’s injury will probably be the top story on ESPN.
One more rule for you: “Not permitted is quoting, paraphrasing or reporting comments made by coaches, players or team personnel during a practice session.”
I’m not sure where the 49ers stand on this. A couple years ago, I was told paraphrasing was all right, but direct quotes were not. Maybe the Raiders went further, or maybe the 49ers are there, too.
Now imagine the following scene, far-fetched as it might be. Coach Jack Del Rio interrupts a drill and tells a linebacker – let’s randomly pick Sio Moore – to get off the field because he’s loafing. Moore tells the coach to go to hell. Del Rio, already annoyed by the skimpy dinner portions at French Laundry the night before, gets in Moore’s face and tells him he’s the worst excuse for a linebacker he’s ever seen. Moore shouts back that he’s going to kick the coach’s ass before the two are separated.
Or hey, maybe a real-life example: Raiders players, during pre-practice stretching, chanting “Cable, bomaye!” the day after news broke that Tom Cable had punched out assistant coach Randy Hanson.
Can’t write a word of it. Never happened, in fact, if you are weren’t privileged enough to be on the sidelines.
But honestly, it isn’t righteous outrage I feel when I read that last rule. It’s a sadness for the demise of vivid NFL reporting. Oh, it’s still fun for the reporters. We still get to witness all those hilarious hijinks on the field. We just can’t pass them along to the people who pay for tickets. You folks can read all about the nice catch Rod Streater made on an August morning. We just can’t tell you whether he was the X or Z receiver on that play, or repeat the wisecrack Streater made to the rookie DB after making the grab.