After reading this Washington Post story on Adam Schefter, it’s becoming clear that Rick Maese is the go-to writer for profiles of semi-scrutable ESPN personalities. The Schefter piece doesn’t have the surprising pathos of Maese’s memorable Skip Bayless profile from a year ago, but it does provide a shockingly simple answer to the million-dollar question of how Schefter gets what he does: he bargains for it.
Working for ESPN, Schefter breaks more NFL news than anyone else, and he does it without being a league employee (Breer, Rapoport) or being in bed with the players (Glazer), so it’s even more impressive. But to hear Maese tell it, teams aren’t just falling over themselves to feed Schefter information. It’s a tit-for-tat—Schefter gives them unreported news in exchange for their information, whether the trade be immediate or simply a scoop-to-be-named-later.
Here’s Schefter informing someone in the Chiefs’ front office that one of their players is about to be suspended.
“I think you maybe have another suspension coming down the pike,” Schefter told him. “I don’t think it’s today, but I think it’s coming here before the preseason’s over. . . . Oh, you weren’t aware of that? . . . I think Donald Stephenson. Does that surprise you? I don’t know that for a fact, but I had somebody text me and say, ‘Hey, be on the lookout for Donald Stephenson.’ So, I’m giving you a heads-up in advance. If it starts percolating and you give me a heads-up back, that’d be great.”
Four days later when the info was more solid, Schefter reported to the rest of the world that the Chiefs offensive lineman had been suspended for the first four games of the season.
“The reason people talk to you — I’m not stupid — they believe that you’re going to be informed,” Schefter said, “and you’re going to bring something to the table for them . . . I can’t stand calling somebody and just being, like, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Anything new?’ You can’t be a taker. You’ve got to be a giver.”
That example’s simple enough. The Chiefs were thankful to learn of Stephenson’s impending suspension before they would have otherwise. So when they heard from the league, they confirmed it for Schefter. The team gets the heads-up, he gets the story.
This is nothing new under the sun, and it makes front offices want to be tight with Schefter—they need him as much as he needs them. But it gets a little trickier when Schefter is offering up information about other teams.
On this morning, the audience numbered only one: an AFC executive who had just called.
“Well, I got a few things for you,” Schefter said. “Number one, you got the Titans and Eagles, both very anxious to trade for a wide receiver. They’re both in the wide receiver market. So they’re looking and my understanding is your team is loaded at receiver. . . “
One way to read this is as a reporter actively facilitating trades, in this case possibly clueing in potential trading partners to Tennessee and Philadelphia’s desperation. The Titans and Eagles couldn’t be too happy about that, but at the same time, as long as Schefter’s fair and objective (and he’s been doing this long enough for everyone to believe he is), those teams know he’ll throw them a bone in turn. It’s a fascinating system, a throwback to a time when sports reporters were chummier with their subjects, and it seems like it works for everyone.
Go read the full profile. At the very least, you’ll learn which tight end you should reach for in fantasy this year.
Adam Schefter is NFL reporting machine [Washington Post]