Skip to content

Jon Niese bristles at the media reporting Dan Warthen’s racial slur — and I sorta understand why

Mar 13, 2014, 9:49 AM EDT

Dan Warthen

I usually have super strong and certain opinions about things. Especially when they concern the media. But this situation has me waffling and wondering all over the place, and I feel like just talking through it. Cool? Cool.

Yesterday a story by Stu Woo of the Wall Street Journal was published in which he described Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen using a racial slur in the Mets’ clubhouse. Last night the Mets and Warthan issued statements apologizing. End of story?

I didn’t think it would be at the time. Mostly because I assumed that there would be some blowback at Woo for writing the story to begin with. Blowback from either reporters or the Mets about Woo repeating or describing things which took place in the clubhouse and perhaps some quibbling about what is and what is not off the record. The first instance of it came a few minutes ago:

We are definitely in an interesting, gray and/or fine line area with all of this. I can see both sides of it.

On the one hand, the clubhouse was open to reporters at the time. It’s not open that much. An hour or so in the morning and then for a while after game time. Players and coaches have several hours in the morning  when the clubhouse is, most definitely, their castle and sanctuary. And heck, even when it is open to the press, there are several places players can and often do go to avoid the media. Workout rooms, lounges, breakfast/lunch areas, trainer’s rooms, offices and the like, all marked clearly with “no media beyond this point” signs. While they may say the media is intruding on their space and privacy, it’s a very small intrusion for a very short amount of time for a reason their team and most players and coaches are perfectly fine with.

On the other hand: even if one spends as little time in a clubhouse as I do, the vibe and, dare I say it, unwritten rules of the place become almost immediately apparent. As a reporter you’re a guest there and you just get a feeling that some stuff is fair game and some isn’t. I’ve heard players tell the most crude jokes ever. Make comments about the news or whatever is on the clubhouse TV that one does not say in polite company. Look at videos on their iPads that make it very clear there are no filters on the team’s internet connection.  Stuff that, if it was on the record in a newspaper, would turn these players and coaches into public enemy number one. My personal feeling about that is that most of that stuff is not really newsworthy in and of itself; and it feels wrong to put it out there for it’s own sake without some sort of compelling reason.

Certainly not just to put the player or coach in a bad light. I mean, last week I talked about a poster in Clint Hurdle’s office and the particular arrangement Brad Ausmus’ office supplies. Those things, I felt, provided some flavor and insight into these guys’ character. And, unless I’ve greatly miscalculated, are not things that would make any reasonable person think poorly of those two. Quite the opposite, actually. Not that I care so much about what people think of them. I mean, it’s not my job to protect their images. It’s just that making a positive or neutral observation about someone from a subjective position feels OK to me. If you’re wrong about what you observed, well, no harm, you made them look better, actually. If you’re going to pass along subjective observations of potential negative things, however, it’s way more important to make sure you’ve gotten all sides and all of the context and everything because you don’t want to misrepresent anyone.

And of course, trumping all of those concerns is newsworthiness. When AP reporter Steve Wilstein reported about PEDs sitting in Mark McGwire’s locker as he assaulted Roger Maris’ home run record in 1998, well, that was newsworthy. It was newsworthy because of McGwire’s comments about it, the way in which power hitting and pumped-up sluggers had taken over the game, and everything else that surrounded Big Mac and baseball at the time. Wilstein got a TON of blowback from players, coaches and other reporters about what he reported from inside the Cardinals’ clubhouse (and what he probably would have Tweeted from there had Twitter been around back then), but balancing his legitimate presence in the clubhouse at the time, his lack of violation of any clubhouse rules (he didn’t take a photo of it, as photos are strictly prohibited) and the newsworthiness of the subject, he was in the right.

Which brings us back to Warthen and Woo. Warthen was in a place where the media was properly present and either knew or didn’t take the time to figure out if he was around reporters. And what he said — his use of a racial slur and reference to previous use of it — was more notable in that particular context than it would be if I overheard some players telling dirty jokes. Woo and the translator to whom he was speaking are both Asian and the interaction at least suggests that maybe Warthen isn’t racially sensitive around team employees or media members of other races. Could be newsworthy, may not be. Hard to say. It’s at least worth thinking about.

But I also can’t help but think that this snapshot of Warthen is something I wouldn’t have reported. Or reported in this particular way. I’m not saying Woo was wrong to report it. I can’t put myself in his shoes here, both because I wasn’t there and because the slur Warthen uttered is not something I’ve ever had to live with or hear directed at me. I’m just saying that, were I in his shoes, I wouldn’t have. I feel like if you asked 50 different reporters you’d get tons of different approaches here.

The general point here is that I can see why Woo reported what he reported. But I can also see why Niese is bristling. It’s a fascinating situation in that it speaks to just how weird and oftentimes uncertain player-media interaction really is. The uneasy relationship between the covered and those who cover them. It also gets to the heart of a subject I wonder about often: why do we care about these players beyond what they do on the field and why do we cover them the way in which we cover them? I have some strong opinions about this in certain narrow areas — I think most player on-the-record-quotes are less-than illuminating — and I have nothing but uncertainty about others — I love to know what makes these guys tick, but have no confidence that anyone can really know, no matter how good a reporter they are.

Anyway, food for thought. And debate.

Latest Posts
  1. Ryan Howard does not seem too happy about platooning

    Jul 24, 2014, 5:32 PM EDT

    ryan howard getty Getty Images

    It’s been bad in Philly. Is it starting to get ugly?

  2. Masahiro Tanaka “is still reporting discomfort in his elbow”

    Jul 24, 2014, 5:10 PM EDT

    Masahiro Tanaka AP AP

    Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka is supposed to rest for six weeks before doctors determine if he needs Tommy John elbow surgery, but 10 days into the process things aren’t going well.

  3. The eyes have it: Thomas’ greatness built on patience

    Jul 24, 2014, 4:20 PM EDT

    140724-frank-thomas-1000 Getty Images

    Frank Thomas is headed to the Hall of Fame thanks to his legendary batting eye.

  4. Expert’s Corner: How to troll fans of all 30 teams

    Jul 24, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT

    Sad Phillies fans

    Everyone has a gift. This is my gift. I shall now share it with you.

  5. Chuck Knoblauch arrested, accused of assaulting ex-wife

    Jul 24, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT

    Chuck Knoblauch

    According to K-HOU television in Houston the 46-year-old Knoblauch has been charged with assault of a family member, Cheri Knoblauch, whom he divorced in 2012.

  6. Mariners re-acquire Kendrys Morales from Twins for Stephen Pryor

    Jul 24, 2014, 2:51 PM EDT

    Kendrys-Morales-Twins Getty Images

    Kendrys Morales had a good first week for the Twins after sitting out the first two months of the season and then signing a one-year, $7.5 million deal in June, but he’s been horrendous since then while hitting .209 with one homer and a .524 OPS in 33 games.

  7. Are the Dodgers about to dump Dan Haren?

    Jul 24, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT

    Dan Haren Dodgers AP

    Dan Haren finished last season strong for the Nationals, signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Dodgers this offseason, and got off to a nice start in Los Angeles.

  8. HBT Daily: La Russa, Torre and Cox to be inducted on Sunday

    Jul 24, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

    HBT Daily Logo

    And it provides us with an opportunity to think about what it means to be a Hall of Fame manager.

  9. Mariners send Taijuan Walker back to Triple-A

    Jul 24, 2014, 1:46 PM EDT

    taijuan walker getty Getty Images

    Taijuan Walker rejoined Seattle’s rotation Wednesday after spending most of the season on the disabled list and at Triple-A, but after struggling in his start against the Mets the Mariners have sent the 21-year-old rookie back to the minors.

  10. A’s designate $10 million reliever Jim Johnson for assignment

    Jul 24, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT

    Jim Johnson A's AP

    Oakland acquiring Jim Johnson from Baltimore and agreeing to pay him $10 million this season left a lot of people shaking their heads and now the move is officially a spectacular failure. And over, too.

  11. Tigers GM says Joel Hanrahan’s rehab status “does not sound encouraging”

    Jul 24, 2014, 12:20 PM EDT

    Joel Hanrahan AP

    When the Tigers signed Joel Hanrahan in May they were hoping the former All-Star closer would be ready to return from Tommy John elbow surgery by the All-Star break, but he hasn’t progressed as planned and now they’re not hoping for much of anything.

  12. Everything you need to know about next week’s trade deadline

    Jul 24, 2014, 12:09 PM EDT

    David Price David Price

    Who is buying? Who is selling? Who is on the block? And is next week’s trade deadline really a deadline?

  13. Which hitters have the most multi-homer games?

    Jul 24, 2014, 11:51 AM EDT

    Edwin Encarnacion Getty Getty Images

    Four names you’d expect and one name of a guy heading to retirement.

  14. Neftali Feliz expected to take over as Rangers closer following Joakim Soria trade

    Jul 24, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT

    Neftali Feliz AP

    Texas traded closer Joakim Soria to Detroit for a pair of prospects and Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports that the Rangers will likely turn back to a familiar name to fill the vacant closer role: Neftali Feliz.

  15. Happy 50th Birthday, Barry Bonds!

    Jul 24, 2014, 11:03 AM EDT

    Barry Bonds AP

    All Hail the best hitter for at least the last half-century and a dude who has more business being on that stage in Cooperstown on Sunday than anyone.

  16. Impending free agent Jon Lester won’t talk contract with the Red Sox until after the season

    Jul 24, 2014, 10:50 AM EDT

    Jon Lester Getty AP

    Jon Lester is three months from hitting the open market as a free agent and Red Sox president Larry Lucchino revealed during a radio interview that the left-hander has informed the team he won’t negotiate a new contract until after the season.

  17. Derek Jeter is the third most powerful figure in New York Sports? Really?

    Jul 24, 2014, 10:32 AM EDT

    derek jeter getty Getty Images

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Featured video

Managers get easier path to Cooperstown
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. H. Street (4009)
  2. C. Lee (2956)
  3. H. Ramirez (2880)
  4. T. Tulowitzki (2836)
  5. C. Headley (2709)
  1. Y. Puig (2706)
  2. B. Belt (2521)
  3. J. Soria (2461)
  4. T. Walker (2245)
  5. A. Rios (2168)