Derek Jeter's Players' Tribune is not all that it seems

·Chris Zelkovich
Derek Jeter's Players' Tribune is not all that it seems

The first reaction upon reading Derek Jeter's voice-for-the-athletes The Players' Tribune site is that the former baseball great has managed to corral some of the most amazing human beings on the planet.

Look at David Ortiz, for example. Not only can this guy hit home runs into the stratosphere, but he can write. And we're not talking about a "Why I want to be a baseball player" Grade 6 composition here. We're talking real writing, the kind you might see in the finest sports publications.

Add in the fact that Ortiz has written so eloquently in his second language and you have to be wondering whether he might be this generation's Voltaire. After all, the Boston Red Sox slugger didn't just write a piece about his battles to avoid being labelled a steroid user. He's also listed as the site's ``editor at large."

A slugger, writer and editor all in one large package. You wouldn't be surprised if the Nobel Prize panel isn't convening at this moment to discuss adding another category: Sports Superstar/Literary Genius.

But wait a minute.

Things here aren't quit what they appear to be. Ortiz, of course, did not write the piece attributed to him, nor has he likely done much editing.

That's not the way it's done at The Players' Tribune. As Richard Sandomir wrote in the New York Times recently, like all of the athletes whose "work" is featured on the site, Ortiz sat down with a Players' Tribune editor and told his story. Those words were then massaged into a well-written, thought-provoking and controversial piece that has been read across the globe.

While Tribune editorial director Gary Hoenig, formerly with the highly regarded ESPN The Magazine, had no hesitation in describing the process to Sandomir, there is little on the site to explain what really goes on behind the scenes. In fact, the promotional material that accompanied the site's launch last year would lead even the most cynical type to believe otherwise.

The press release issued at the time touted ``an innovative multimedia digital company where world-class athletes will share their unfiltered, honest and unique perspectives, bringing fans closer to the games they love.”

Jeter himself sure didn't hint about that at the time.

``So I’m in the process of building a place where athletes have the tools they need to share what they really think and feel," he said in a statement announcing the birth of the site last fall. ``We want to have a way to connect directly with our fans, with no filter."

Admittedly, nobody really would think for a minute that David Ortiz or any other pro athlete could craft an erudite magazine article. But the site is simply being disingenuous -- if not outright misleading -- by not crediting the person who really wrote the piece and leaving readers in the dark.

What would be wrong with an ``as told to" byline?

While there's certainly room for a site like this, the fact is that it appears to be designed to avoid dealing with the traditional media and some of their more uncomfortable questions. Jeter has said that it's not intended to replace traditional media, but simply to provide athletes with their own forum.

And that's another area where it may fall well short of the mark. In his "article," Ortiz makes a lot of claims that may not hold up under closer scrutiny. Hardball Talk's Craig Calcaterra has more than a few issues with the quality of the Tribune's fact-checking and Ortiz's side of the story.

Hoenig told Sandomir that the site's editors followed standard fact-checking techniques but accepted his claims in part because Major League Baseball wouldn't verify or deny them.

He told the Times that the athletes run a potential risk in making their claims.

“It’s their reputation out there,” he said. “It’s our job to say, ‘Do you really want to go out there and say that?’ "

Not many traditional media outlets wouid operate that way. That's more reminiscent of the way a public relations firm might approach the issue.

As the Ortiz article proved, the Tribune can make a contribution to sports. But it's really only one side of the story and it really needs to be a lot more up front about what it really is.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting