I think it's pretty common knowledge that the newspaper industry is in pretty bad shape. Reporters, editors, support staff, etc. are being laid off left and right. I think anyone who reads the Chronicle on a daily basis can see how that paper has been hit by this - smaller sections, more wire stories, etc. But I think about the only section of that paper that is close to still being fully staffed is the sports page.
The Chron has two writers that cover the Astros full-time. They have a full-time write on the Rockets. They have writers devoted to Texas, Texas A&M, Houston, and Rice. And they have two writers who cover the Houston Texans. That's their job. The Texans. Yet last May, the Texans violated league rules and held full-contact drills in practices that were open to the public.
But this did not become news until yesterday. And neither of the Chron writers broke this story. It was ESPN.com, and ESPN.com put the story out as a promotion for this Sunday's Outside The Lines which will document this story. I'm not going to go any further into this story because my concern is different. My concern is with the Chron's coverage of this story, and of the Texans in general.
The primary Texans writer is John McClain. He's been the Chron's NFL/football writer for over 30 years. He's one of the guys who decides who gets into the NFL Hall of Fame. The guy is connected. He's got sources. He's been around. If there's anybody who should know what's going on with a football team, and who should know when rules are being violated, he's the guy.
Yet he didn't get this story. He didn't know anything about until ESPN.com came out with the story, even though multiple complaints were filed with the NFL about this.
This is McClain's blog post on this story. In the post, he says the right things. The Texans will be lucky if they only lose a fourth round choice. That the Texans and Gary Kubiak were stupid. And that it's possible that Gary Kubiak will face fines. And this is what he should be expected to say. And this should be expected because that's the correct thing to write.
But then you read the comments to the post. And lots of the comments blast the media for reporting this, or say that other teams do this. But there are some comments that blast McClain for not knowing about this story, and for allowing ESPN to scoop him. And this is where things go wrong.
To one commenter, McClain says these guys were just backups and reserves, as if their grievances don't matter. He says to another that he knew about these injuries, but he didn't care because the guys weren't starters. Then McClain makes a rather startling admission: "OTAs and minicamps are open to the media. Reporters aren't there every day. If I saw an offensive lineman and defensive lineman doing a drill, I wouldn't have paid any attention to it because I didn't know it was illegal. I also don't attend many because I take off after the draft."
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Do you see that? The Texans didn't try to hide anything. They didn't need to. Because John McClain, the guy who's been covering football as a beat writer for over three decades, doesn't know what he's looking at when he goes to practice. The heart of football is in the line, but McClain doesn't pay any attention to it. Even if he did, he wouldn't know if anything was wrong because he doesn't know what is legal or illegal for football practices.
I know that the collective bargaining agreement is a big-ass document, but I would think that part of the job of a NFL beat writer is to know that agreement and how it affects each team, because that is where information on the salary cap and roster sizes is spelled out. And it also denotes what can, and cannot, be done in offseason practices. And it's not really that hard to find. It's spelled out in the table of contents.
Shouldn't we expect more from the primary source of independent information on the Houston Texans? Is it too much to ask that he actually cover the team at all times? That he care about the reserves as much as he cares about Matt Schaub? That he actually knows the rules that the team and players must follow?
Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm just asking for too much. But I think we deserve something better. We shouldn't have to rely on ESPN to tell us about what's really going on with the Houston Texans. We should expect the guy who is supposed to be reporting on the Texans to actually do some reporting on the Texans.