The President of the Sports Writers Association of Ghana says the time has come for participants in sports coverage to pay attention to the metal wellbeing of athletes in the wake of concerns raised by Sportsmen and Women.
Mr Mr Kwabena Yeboah was speaking at the AIPS meeting to celebrate the World Sports Journalist day via zoom with over 200 delegates from across the World.
Mr Kwabena Yeboah, a practicing Sports Journalist with more that 40 years experience stressed that the recent happenings in the mental health elite sportsmen and Sportswoman and the impact on Sports Journalist means the situation could be narrowed down to athletes condition in relation to their psychological wellbeing.
“For our specific purpose as we celebrate the World Sports Journalists Day and in view of recent concerns about the mental health of our elite sportsmen and sportswomen and how their state impacts our profession as journalists, we can safely narrow the issue to the athlete’s condition in relation to their psychological and emotional well-being”.
“It primarily could be anything from anxiety, disorder, phobias, depression and mood disorders”.
Mr Kwabena Yeboah reminded stakeholders of the long standing relationship between Sportsmen and Journalists stressing that the relationship hasn’t been great regarding having to ask difficult questions that makes Sportsmen uncomfortable
“Traditionally, journalists and sportsmen have never had the greatest relationships. Our jobs as journalists requires us to ask questions that people don’t always ask and in the line of duty it is easy for us to come across as insensitive and intrusive”.
The SWAG president said the unfortunate incident of the Euro 2020 Where Christian Erikson collapsed was a difficult moment for sports Journalists especially having to balance report, and sharing the emotions attached with the incident
“Recently when Christian Erikson collapsed at the start of the Euros, I would have imagined the difficulties of journalists in covering the story, in trying to unravel the mood in the Denmark camp, in trying to make a determination about what to publish and what not publish even if a journalist had impeccable sources within the team or in the hospital where the player stayed. With emotions so raw, this would have required special skills in dealing with sources”.
“Whatever the field of journalism we find ourselves in, dealing with sources is what makes or unmakes us. The big stories rarely happens when we are physically present, we rely on sources for a significant part of our work. We rely on them for colour, for context even when we have watched a game or seen a race live. And in dealing with sources, mutual trust is fundamental”.
If our primary sources, in this case sportsmen are anxious, unhappy, moody, unwilling to speak and depressed, answering questions will be the last priority for them. In the many years of covering Ghana and Ghanaian teams, I learnt one thing, a loss on a trip with the Black Stars or Asante Kotoko and Hearts of Oak, Ghana’s two most prominent football teams meant very little stories, little context and little buzz. Our sources simply didn’t open up as much if the mood was not right.
Two examples stick out for me. When Kumasi Asante Kotoko lost the last Africa Cup Winners Cup against WAC of Morocco, there were as much tears in the stands as there was on the pitch. The players drifted away without a word, the coach was broken. Our coverage for a newspaper had to feed off the raw emotions without much input from the main actors.
Ghana versus Uruguay was another example. A few players boldly spoke after the loss but it wasn’t until the morning after that we got context, the deeper stories and the reflections.
In many ways our work as journalists, how we report certain news stories and what we ask from players and athletes affect their mental health in ways we do not know.
What Naomi Osaka’s rejection to speak to the press at the French Open has done is that, it will embolden a sect of athletes who have mental health issues high on their block to come out and advocate for better systems.
Why must a player speak to reporters at all cost regardless of how they feel? It is a question we may need to reflect on as journalists ourselves.
A lot of education will be needed by journalists if this worrying trend has to get better. We have to know what to put out and when to hold our cards to our chest because it could affect the mental health of the athletes.
The effect is that players will withdraw publicly so access to them will be very difficult. Player interviews will be scarce. A good example is the Asamoah Gyan penalty miss of 2010. It has made him a bit more reclusive in the past few years. Shying away from interviews knowing the penalty miss will definitely be topical on the list.
Line of questioning is the most important. There are many instances when players have agreed to interviews on certain basis with stringent ‘rules’ on what they want to answer and what they will not want to deal with.
Black Stars players have long commented about how they are treated when they come down from their foreign clubs to play for the Black Stars. The insults, name-calling, and others affect them in many ways and in turn makes the journalist’s work difficult.
Also, mental health issues have become rifer. People are beginning to understand that certain utterances damage the sportsman. What this does is that it gives the Sportsmen an opportunity to run the discourse however they want it. They can also take legal action on journalists who tend to misconstrue their words or write something in a way that’s quite far from what was actually said.
So as the key actors become increasingly wary of opening up as they deal with their own difficulties, we as journalists will lose a big part of our story. Our job is to find a balance between asking the right and difficult questions and being able to empathise with them.
Until we find this balance, I’m afraid the journey ahead could be perilous.