Were you looking forward to OTAs kicking off today? Eager to see a Vine of LeSean McCoy doing a ladder drill, or Tyrod Taylor throwing fades in the end zone? Looking for Joe Buscaglia's daily writeup of the players going through the drills?
Sorry, that's not happening this year.
The Buffalo Bills announced a brand new set of media guidelines for the 2016 season, and they'll probably get a note of congratulation from the National Security Administration on their strict policy. Among the new limitations, which affect all media reporting on the Bills:
- They cannot report on who is playing with the first string or the second string
- They cannot report who is rushing the passer
- They cannot report if a quarterback is completing his passes or if they are intercepted, or if a receiver catches or drops the ball
- The media is not allowed to talk with players during or after practice, only during specified "media availability sessions"
- Photographers are only permitted to take pictures during stretches and individual drills, and they have to do it from a boxed area ten yards away from the field
- Media are not allowed to stream any parts of practice using applications like Meerkat or Periscope
This is the latest PR-unfriendly move from a franchise that has been embracing secrecy at the expense of the media, and by extension the fans that depend on news reports to give them something to hear and talk about with their favorite players.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have experimented with opening an OTA to the public. The Minnesota Vikings are hosting film sessions with head coach Mike Zimmer so the media can learn how to write about game strategy and player performance. The Buffalo Bills bring media members into an "interrogation" the day before a game.
It's not really clear what benefit this provides for the team. If competitive advantage is the issue here, the team isn't gaining anything. Their training camp practices are open to the public, and there is nothing that will stop a thousand fans from recording every bit of practice from their respective cell phones. Coaches love to harp about how schemes aren't fully baked during organized team activities anyway, so why would they be concerned if the journalists report who's playing nickel linebacker?
All this does is hurt the fans, and make this game less enjoyable to follow. Unfortunately, this isn't just a trend with the Bills; the NFL is continuing to close its doors at the expense of its fans. In Major League Baseball, players will stand outside the dugout before games, sign autographs, and play catch with young fans. The NBA has embraced social media and analytics, making it possible for fans to catch every moment of the biggest games from whatever perspective they want. The NFL issues takedown notices for GIFs on the internet, it treats every PR issue as some sort of alien that needs to be exterminated somehow, and its commissioner is loathed by pretty much everyone who isn't on the league's payroll.
This is also a disappointing turn for freedom of the press. The Bills are a private organization and it's their prerogative to shoehorn journalists into a bunch of archaic rules, but it's a step back for civil rights in a year that has challenged the news media in that area.
As you might expect, this went over with the Bills reporters about as well as Doug Whaley's remark about "tabloid journalism." If you ever picked a day to follow the Buffalo media on Twitter, Bills fans, make it this one. Here are some of our favorite reactions:
If Bills prohibit "interceptions" and "dropped passes" from being reported, then "touchdowns" and "catches" will not be reported, either.— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) May 24, 2016
The grass is a greenish color, and some #Bills players are wearing a whitish jersey with numbers on them. Others, bluish with other numbers.— John Wawrow (@john_wawrow) May 24, 2016
Cornerback Corey White caught a pass that was not intended for him during team drills. #Bills— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) May 24, 2016
A QB not named Tyrod Taylor or Cardale Jones just threw a pick-six on his first throw of team work.— Mark Ludwiczak (@MarkLud12) May 24, 2016
Even the notorious Twitter troll Uncle Chaps, whose claim to fame is disguising his account to share fake "breaking" news, got in on the action:
#BillsUpdates: EJ Manuel continues to look bad.— Chaps (@UncleChaps) May 24, 2016
And at some point, the media collectively decided to tell the Bills where they could shove their rules, and just reported on practice anyway.
Jordan Mills is lining up with the Bills' first team at right tackle.— Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne) May 24, 2016
Jarrett Boykin and Greg Little both getting reps with Tyrod Taylor along with Robert Woods.— Matthew Fairburn (@MatthewFairburn) May 24, 2016