March 20, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano answers questions from reporters during the annual NFL meetings at the Arizona Biltmore. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
The Media and the Fans
But let’s not forget the other participants in this awful relationship. The multiple facets of the media, and the fans of the Buccaneers, chipped in to create an even more dramatic and toxic situation.
Consider first the role of the national media. Those who cover the NFL in general, and have no direct ties to Tampa Bay. They’re the ones who have revealed some of the most frustrating anecdotes about the Buccaneers so far this offseason.
Remember the time when we learned that Darrelle Revis was reportedly unhappy with Greg Schiano’s rules and scheme? That story originated from Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports, who is based out of New Jersey and has reported locally in the New York area in the past.
Jul 26, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber talks with media when he returned back to training camp at One Buccaneer Place. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
That means he likely had (and retains) ties to Revis’ “people,” who were likely the source of his information. His motivation and his reason for reporting the news is the same as any other member of the national media, he gets paid for the dramatic and important stories that local media can’t find, or can’t report if they do find.
But he also gets paid for the accuracy and veracity of his claims. There’s a reason that Adam Schefter is one of the most highly respected (and likely highest paid) people in his industry. He’s always right on his scoops and stories, and he gets them first. Garafolo doesn’t benefit from telling lies about the Buccaneers, so there is more to his comments than just the classic “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
Think back also to the first time we learned about Josh Freeman’s desire to be traded, as first reported by Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. This report came as a surprise to many Bucs’ fans, and La Canfora was questioned heavily for his report. But as we found out in a few short days, he was on point. The relationship between Schiano and Freeman was poor, and it’s very likely that Freeman or his agent let it be known that Freeman no longer wanted to be in Tampa Bay.
So the national media thrives off “based in reality” dramatics, which is what they’ve found plenty of in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ locker room. From leaked medical information to trade rumors, there’s been no shortage of frustratingly juicy details to share with the masses. So why has none of it been reported on by the local media?
Because they gain their access to the team by different avenues. The local media go to press conferences and practices and games with the permission of the PR department and staff of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That means that the Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times beat writers have an open and working relationship with the people who make a living keeping the Bucs as a positive member of the public perception.
So when the local media is reporting about Josh Freeman’s benching after he’s already been released, it’s because that’s what they’re being allowed access to. That’s why the Saturday after Freeman was released, Rick Stroud released a story about John McNulty’s comments on how Freeman didn’t fit the Buccaneers’ system.
That’s why Tampa Tribune beat writers were releasing tweets like these after Freeman’s release
So just like Erik Burkhardt’s job is to make as much money for himself and his client, and just as the national media’s job is to produce reality-based drama to bring in viewers and website clicks, the local media has to do what they can to report the team’s side of things, to ensure they have continued access to the team and its players.
That’s not to say that any of the information presented is inaccurate. There is a world in which every single detail leaked about Freeman and Schiano is 100% true. But it’s the way that information is encoded and packaged for the consumption of the fans that determines the status of the fanbase.
Oct 25, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) signs autographs for fans prior to the game with the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a split fanbase at the moment, and the diving line is as clear as the divide between Schiano and Freeman. It’s as different as the roles of the national media and local media.
There are fans who believe that Josh Freeman got a raw deal in Tampa Bay due to ineffective coaching, and they side with the national media who are reporting on the dramatics and hysteria coming out of One Buc Place. They want Greg Schiano fired, and every new story about Josh Freeman is now simply turned into more anti-Schiano commentary for his perceived (and actual) role in the situation.
The are also fans who believe Greg Schiano did the right thing by moving on from the same Josh Freeman they had previously determined they were done with. At training camp and Fan Fest this summer, I overheard more than a dozen different groups of fans having casual conversations about the team and stating that they believed “Josh Freeman sucked” or that it was “time to let the kid play, I’ve heard he’s pretty good.”
And then there are a multitude of fans in the middle, who claim they simply support the team and want to see them win. They’re torn between reports from differing sources, and the actions of Schiano and Freeman. They’re the victims of this mutually destructive relationship.
Because in the end, all parties involved in the destruction have done what they set out to do. Greg Schiano is free of his quarterback, who looks like he was the problem and never the solution. Josh Freeman is free of Greg Schiano, who he likely saw as a stumbling block preventing him from furthering his career.
And the national media have created a circus in Tampa, bringing attention to a market they don’t cover often, and bringing out discussion and debate about a topic that’s bringing in new fans and new viewers. The local media have done their job to maintain their status as the “official papers of the Buccaneers” and continue to receive access to the locker room, which they report from to earn their living.
So for the sake of the fans, who have no attachment now to Freeman or to the national media, let’s hope that the local media has stories of triumph and improvement in the coming weeks from a team led by a coach who now has no excuses left, and simply has to win.