I have covered the Chicago Bears since the Super Bowl campaign of 2006, so this will be my fifth season on the beat.
Considering the fact that I talk to football players for a living, I have incredibly little to complain about from a professional standpoint. Never a day goes by when I don't thank my lucky stars for being able to pay the bills by doing my best to break down the inner workings of the Cover-2 defense.
That being said, the organization has seemingly gone out of its way to make print, radio and television work much harder each year I've had a lanyard hanging around my neck. Every OTA used to be open to the media. Now, it's only four of them. Room and board was previously provided throughout training camp free of charge. Now, we pay by the night and only lunch is served. I even had my photo credential taken away a while back. The reason? The NFL wants to clean up the sidelines. But I talked to the Getty and AP guys. They both assured me there's plenty of room down there.
Then there was the memo sitting on my desk in the press room at Halas Hall before Wednesday's OTA, detailing a dozen "media coverage guidelines" that we must follow going forward. Coming off three straight years missing the playoffs, and with criticism firing from all angles both locally and nationally as a result, it appears the Bears are trying to control the message more than ever.
Here are five of these said guidelines that will more or less make it more difficult for Chicago fans to know everything they want to know about their favorite team:
Guideline No. 8: Loitering in the hallway or lobby at any time (during open locker room or practice availabilities) is prohibited.
During the season, media are allowed into the locker room at Halas Hall from 12:15 to 1:00 on Wednesdays and Thursdays. More often than not, it is just about empty once reporters start to file in, as players may be eating lunch, lifting weights or getting taped up before practice. Not by coincidence, the players tend to migrate back toward their lockers around 12:58, knowing full well that members of the press must vacate shortly. To combat this, some media will hang around in the hallway between the lunch room and the locker room in order to grab that precious interview. That is now forbidden, so unless the media relations staff makes a better effort to get players into the locker room during that 45-minute period, quotes will be tougher to get.
Guideline No. 9: Offensive coaches are available off the field on Wednesday, special teams and defensive coaches are available off the field on Thursday. Each of the coordinators and assistant coaches will not be available at any other time, including in the locker room after games. Media are respectfully asked not to call any members of the coaching staff on their own.
There was one game last season when Jay Cutler was at the podium after a loss at Soldier Field and explained why a timeout needed to be burned in a crucial situation. According to Cutler, there was some confusion in the huddle and the play clock was about to expire. Once media members were let into the locker room, former offensive coordinator Ron Turner was asked the same question about the same situation. He told a different story and said there was no confusion of which to speak. Cutler was probably telling the truth. Turner was likely massaging it. Bottom line, the Bears looked bad and they want to eliminate the he-said-he-said stuff as much as possible.
Guideline No. 10: Please do not report on offensive or defensive strategy. This includes describing formations, personnel groups or nonconventional
In other words, say goodbye to nuggets like this one, which I wrote May 22 following the afternoon minicamp practice:
"[Mike] Martz has unveiled an awful lot already, and Saturday afternoon we even saw some option-type stuff being run during positional drills. First, [Devin] Hester took an end-around handoff from Cutler, sprinted around the right side and then pitched the ball to Matt Forte near the numbers. One snap later, Forte and Chester Taylor lined up in the backfield together, and this time it was Forte getting the handoff from Cutler before running right and then flipping the ball back to Taylor."
Do Bears fans love reading stuff like that? Yes. Does anyone truly believe Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers is perusing every Windy City publication before putting together his game plan? No. Do the Bears think so? Yes, apparently.
Guideline No. 11: Please do not quote, paraphrase or report the comments made by coaches or players during a practice session.
On the final day of last month's minicamp, the cornerbacks were having an especially good showing in one-on-one drills against the wide receivers and picked off several passes. As I watched only a few feet away, Zack Bowman perked up and shouted to me and a few others that we had all better make mention of the corners owning the receivers that day. It was a fun moment for players and reporters alike. However, even that innocent exchange is now off limits. That means all those colorful comments from defensive backs coach Jon Hoke – he's hilariously brutal when one of his minions messes up – will just disappear into the Lake Forest breeze.
Guideline No. 12: Please do not report on practice injuries until the team has provided an official update.
Defensive end Lawrence Wilson, an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State, seemed to tweak his ankle on the second day of rookie minicamp this past month. I saw it and reported it in my daily practice recap, writing that Wilson looked frustrated and was sidelined for the rest of the day. He never practiced for the Bears again, and he was released Friday after being forced to sit and watch veteran minicamp a few weeks later. If the new guidelines had been in place, nobody ever would have known. No "official update" was provided by the team with regard to Wilson, aside from a press release May 28 informing us that he had been waived.
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Naturally, none of this applies to the team's official Web site, where of course you will never read anything remotely critical about Lovie Smith and Co.
For clarification purposes, these guidelines only apply when the team is at Halas Hall. During training camp on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, media will surely have more breathing room since those practices are open to the public and every Grabowski in the crowd has a camera phone and a Twitter account these days, although fans were prohibited from shooting video this past summer for the first time. I'm fully expecting all press cell phone privileges, including Twitter, to be banned from Halas Hall practices before long, as the Ravens and some other teams have already done.
Pretty soon, none of this will matter anymore to the lanyard-sporting crowd. The Bears are simply going to write all of our stories for us.
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John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.