Naomi Osaka Speaks to the Media Again, But on Her Own Terms

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Enterprising reporters can still gain insights from news conferences, and many athletes do not share Ms. Osaka’s stress about them. “He seems pretty comfortable,” Polish tennis player Iga Swiatek said last week. But while independent journalists can present everything from groundbreaking research to commentary, the role of journalism as just a conduit for the word of athletes is no longer so relevant. Ms. Osaka “could hold a live-streamed press conference on Instagram if she wanted to,” her manager Stuart Duguid said.

A Guardian sportswriter, Jonathan Liew, said in an interview that the ritual was “a remnant of an era when they needed the press, when the press was an accepted channel between athletes and the public.”

But the Osaka story resonates more broadly because sports and the media covering them are often the leading indicators of the direction we’re all going. In 2007, Hillary Clinton’s senior spokesperson, Howard Wolfson, tell me He was busy with Major League Baseball’s site, MLB.com, and how he created a media outlet that the league completely controlled. Why can’t a politician and his campaign do the same, he wondered. It didn’t quite work out for him, but in 2008, Barack Obama was producing videos that were far more compelling than anything the networks did. Back in 2016, the Trump Show tied to your local cable network was the best thing on TV.

The attack on independent sports media peaked with the introduction of 2014. Player Stand, with the promise of giving players their own voice. But that effort was pretty much wasted in 2019 by selling to an Israeli media company. Although it did occasionally publish strong articles, it mostly had the sterile quality of a glorified newsletter.

Athletes’ more successful attempts at media have avoided taking on direct journalism. The model is LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, who spent a decade building a media company that has deals for TV shows and movies with HBO, Netflix, Warner Brothers, and others. And at best, these platforms can reveal more than you can get at a news conference. Mr. James founded his company in part on the notion that athletes would open up to each other and “he didn’t want to be asked questions that everyone should know the answer to”. WME Sports, which is at the center of building media companies for athletes.

In a recent episode of “The Shop” produced by Mr. James for HBO, quarterback Tom Brady acknowledged the wood quality of many athletes’ comments to the press.

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