In the wake of Michael Bennett’s threat to boycott his newspaper, Seattle Times columnist Matt Calkins has taken the L.
Over the weekend, Calkins framed an entire column around the premise that Bennett was outspoken, funny, and passionate, but lacked maturity. Calkins wrote that Bennett was immature (in part) because he had ripped into another reporter, Bill Wixey of Q13, in the postgame locker room after a playoff loss to the Falcons in January. Bennett responded angrily to a question Wixey asked, and went so far as to ask what kind of adversity Wixey had endured. (He didn’t know that Wixey has had cancer.) Calkins’s beef was that Bennett never apologized for the outburst. It turns out, though, that Bennett did—privately.
An editor’s note was added to the top of Calkins’s original column Monday night, and Calkins has also written a separate apology:
There will be no excuses here, no justifications, no attempts to explain it away.
I made a mistake this weekend. And I want to apologize.
Sure, there is still a part of me that wonders why Bennett kept [the apology] private. If he is serious about being a role model, I feel like it would have been in his best interest to show his contrition to the world. But it’s also possible that Wixey, who couldn’t be reached for comment, asked Bennett to keep the apology between them so the story would die. I just don’t know.
What I do know is that I should have reached out to Wixey before posting my column. The fact that I didn’t was just plain lazy.
The real lesson here is to not judge athletes based on their reactions to postgame locker-room questions. I’ve been in enough locker rooms to know that athletes can be frustrated and irritable and, well, human after disappointing defeats. If the goal of locker-room access and postgame interviews is to mine for quotes and color and to get a sense of what it really feels like to win or lose, a player’s profane surliness is generally just something that serves the story and gets readers closer to the truth. (There can be exceptions in which athletes do take things too far, of course—sometimes an athlete’s dickishness is just that.) God knows a reaction like Bennett’s is better than a recitation of clichés, which oddly often seems to suit reporters just fine so long as they’re uttered nicely.
Bennett was being a dick to Wixey, but by all indications, it was a one-off, and the private nature of his apology might actually be read as evidence of his character. To use a single isolated incident to make a sweeping read about what kind of person someone is only serves to deepen the divide between reporters (and the public they theoretically represent) and the athletes they cover. Good on Calkins for eating shit and owning up to his mistake; here’s hoping other reporters see that and understand the true takeaway.