Harbaugh’s Comments Highlight Sports Journalism Issue

By Nick Muhl

Following his team’s win versus the Tennessee Titans, Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh decided in his post-game speech to take a “shot” against their division rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens lost last week to the Steelers in a blowout 43-23, where Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw six touchdowns.

That was a tough challenge. We have a team coming off a bye week. You had a team in this room off a very physical Sunday night game. You know what I’m saying? Saw what happened on the other part of that, right? Strike that from the record books, ok? Is that NFL? Are you with us or them? Make sure that doesn‘t get…What I’m about to say doesn‘t get talked about, ok? That team beat us last week, okay? All right? Then they went and got their [a-s] kicked this week. This team was in the same game and went and got the job done this week. That’s who you are. That’s who you are. Congratulations” said Harbaugh shortly before he handed out this week’s game ball.

The video of Harbaugh making the comments has since been deleted from the website it was published and from Youtube, but can still be viewed here: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2262305-john-harbaugh-takes-shot-at-steelers-tells-cbs-not-to-air-comments

Harbaugh’s opinion on the Steelers is no surprise. Without a doubt the Head Coach of a winning football team who beat the Steelers earlier in the year, believes that his Raven’s are the superior team to the Steelers. However, there is a bigger issue at hand with Harbaugh’s comments.

As read in the above quote, and clarified by the Raven’s front office on Monday, Harbaugh’s comments were supposed to remain off the record. As mentioned by Dan Carson, sports writer for Bleacher Report, Harbaugh “made a point of asking the CBS camera crew in the Baltimore locker room not to air the footage.” Clearly though, the coaches request was not met by the CBS crew.

This arises a very popular talked about topic in journalism, especially sports journalism, what is “off the record” and does it really exist?

“Off the Record” is a journalism concept that an interviewee, or any person for that matter, can make a comment or answer a question privately to a journalist. It is common belief that the comment, or quote, cannot be published or in this case aired on TV. From my own personal experiences shadowing Tom Archdeacon, sports writer for the Dayton Daily News, “off the record” is merely a journalists tool to gaining more information.

While shadowing Archdeacon, I observed him use the “off the record” tactic to learn information from one player. He would then take the information he just learned and create a new question for a new player to get him to divulge farther into the topic that was once “off the record.”

Every journalist has their own code of journalism ethics they follow. Archdeacon’s use of the “off the record” followed his own code of journalism ethics. He didn’t necessarily publish what was said “off the record” but he did use the information to his advantage. In Harbaugh’s case however, the journalist filming the post-game speech did not have the same code of ethics as Archdeacon.

The harsh truth to realize, especially for those involved with sports who are interviewed often like Harbaugh, “off the record” does not exist. In today’s society anything you say can and will be used against you, especially in journalism. No matter the time of day or who you are talking to, it is important for those in the sports community to realize that they say can be published by the media. While Harbaugh and the Ravens have every right to be upset that the footage was published, in the age of social media and constant flow of information being posted and read online, the Ravens and the sports community as a whole need to come to realize the “free-for-all” game that is sports journalism.

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