I remember reading The Education of a Coach by David Halberstam and marking pages with a highlighter, writing notes in the margin and dog-earing full pages of text. When I spoke to coaches, I recommended they read it too. The book taught me a lot about building leadership skills and coaching talent. I filed the book away on my “read” shelf with a deep respect for Bill Belichick.
Then, the New York Giants beat the Belichick’s New England Patriots, not once, but twice, in the Super Bowl. The first was magical as the Giants knocked off New England 17-14, denying the heavily-favored Patriots of their perfect season. After the loss, Belichick waddled off the field without even giving the winning coach, Tom Coughlin, a congratulatory handshake. His actions were disappointing.
Four years later, the Giants and Patriots met again in Super Bowl XLVI and, again, the Giants stunned the Patriots, 21-17. This time, Belichick met Coughlin at midfield and the two embraced. Better, but too late for reconciliation, in my opinion. Belichick had already built a history of childlike behavior following a loss.
Following Sunday’s ugly loss to the Houston Texans, Belichick again revealed his lack of character. He could barely stomach congratulating Bill O’Brien after the game. Later, in the media room he refused to answer questions, creating an awkward atmosphere and shortened press conference.
Oh my god it’s so uncomfortable pic.twitter.com/QBzVPmIzgI
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) December 2, 2019
“I don’t think (Belichick) is a very good loser. He doesn’t lose much, and when he does, you gives a little quick handshake and he’s out. But you know what? When he beats a lot of these former employees, he goes up, gives them a big hug, there’s more love there. But when he loses, he’s not a happy customer, that’s just part of the deal.”
Belichick’s behavior on Sunday was not shocking. In fact, he has attempted to bully and intimidate the media countless times since taking over in New England two decades ago. When CBS sports reporter Dana Jacobson asked Belichick about the controversy surrounding Antonio Brown earlier this season, the Patriots coach deflected the question with an intimdating stare at the reporter.
Dana Jacobson did her job
Bill Belichick did his job
— Owen (@Alakazam_428) September 23, 2019
“I did my job yesterday. Coach did his. End of story,” said Jacobson.
While she took the high road many of her colleagues spoke out on her behalf, including Taylor Rooks of The Bleacher Report tweeted:
“The stare is wholly unprofessional. Not responding to ‘thank you’ is wholly unprofessional. If he doesn’t want to answer the question, that’s his prerogative. But it’s ridiculous to think you’re above being asked the question. Dana HAS to ask.”
NBC Sports Boston reporter Trenni Kusnierek told Boston Public Radio:
“To me it was a clear tactic of intimidation … For those of you at home saying ‘He doesn’t have to answer those questions, what does he owe you guys?’ I’ll tell you what he owes us: NBC, CBS, ESPN, all of those entities pay literally billions of dollars to have the rights, not just to the games but to have access to the people who play those games, so if you don’t want to play the game, if you don’t want to, and I’m going to borrow a Belichick phrase here, ‘Do your job,’ then retire from your job, because it is part of your job.”
Belichick is disrespectful. He is a bully, an intimidator; a loser at losing. You know that. I know that. The media knows that. The NFL knows that. But this has been brushed off as part of Belichick’s M.O. His persona is tolerated because he wins games — and championships.
So, what’s the point, you ask? Fair question.
Over time, this has evolved into a case study in sports journalism. How should the media respond to Belichick — and coaches like him? My hope is college sports journalism and media-related programs will bring this story into the classroom. There is a lot to be learned from Belichick’s behavior.
The first is, don’t take it personal. What Belichick is doing is nothing more than old-fashioned bully tactics. It doesn’t matter how many Super Bowl rings you’ve won, you can’t earn the right to disrespect a reporter trying to do their job.
The second takeaway is, remember the journalist’s creed.
I believe in the profession of journalism.
I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust.
I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.
I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.
I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.
I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman; that bribery by one’s own pocketbook is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another’s instructions or another’s dividends.
I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.
I believe that the journalism which succeeds best — and best deserves success — fears God and honors Man; is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power, constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance and, as far as law and honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship; is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world.
Finally, stay focused on the job, not the subject. Be prepared. Do your research. Ask fair, but difficult questions (if necessary). Don’t back down to bully tactics or intimidation. If you have a credential, you’ve earned the right to ask questions related to your reporting.