By Steve Farhood
I've been covering boxing and boxers for 24 years, so I have a pretty good idea of how the game is played. And believe me, it is a game. That's because what's good for the media isn't necessarily what's best for the fighter. In a perfect world, the connection between a fighter and a writer should prove mutually beneficial. All too often, however, circumstances dictate that the relationship be adversarial.
While the shape of my nose might suggest otherwise, I've never been attacked by a fighter who was angry with something I wrote. Similarly, the one and only time I was ever accused of misquoting someone, the accuser was a colleague, and not a boxer.
Before I offer some advice, allow me to recount a story that illustrates how one manager tried to manipulate the media. It happened about 10 years ago, when I was editor of "The Ring" magazine, and I still can't believe it.
The manager, who shall remain nameless because he's still guiding high-profile fighters, had a promising prospect under contract. I became aware of the fighter, and word got out to the manager that I was interested in penning a profile. Well, the manager called me, and in a confrontational manner, insisted I refrain from doing a story because he wanted to keep his young fighter "a secret." Imagine, a manager pleading for no publicity!
For the record, I did the story anyway, and the fighter became a world champion.
Here are eight tips for dealing with the media:
1) Common courtesy counts for a lot. Writers and TV reporters are supposed to be objective. But despite what you may have heard, they're also human, and they're more likely to like you--and cover you with a positive spin--if they think you like them. Like stiff jabs, politeness, respect, and a warm smile instantly score points.
2) Accessibility is a key. One of the reasons writers like to cover boxing, as opposed to, say, basketball or baseball: They don't have to go through layers of agents, publicists, advisers, and managers to reach the fighters. Moreover, the fighters are generally down-to-earth and honest (even most of the rich ones). During his prime, I could reach Sugar Ray Leonard through a single phone call. Today, Shane Mosley and Bernard Hopkins aren’t much different. Writers will never admit it, but the athletes they favor are those who prove most accessible.
3) Don't be sensitive. Sometimes a writer has to rip a fighter in print. That can hurt. But writers have their jobs to do. (The trouble generally starts when the fighter doesn't think he deserved to be ripped.) Moreover, it never fails to amaze me that some big-name fighters take it personally when I pick against them. If they use the perceived slight to for motivation, fine. But why hold a grudge?
4) There's no doubt that schtick, for the lack of a better word, draws the media's attention. But if a fighter's personality is promoted at the expense of talent and performance, the media will ultimately come to resent it. For instance, Muhammad Ali was embraced for his uniqueness at least partly because he was winning. Conversely, consider the recent cases of Naseem Hamed and Hector Camacho Jr.
5) Boxing is a political game, and if you sign with a power promoter, there are plenty of positives. Here's one you might not have thought of: When things get tough, the promoter's publicist will have your back. The example that comes to mind: Mike Tyson.
6) Don't forget where you came from--and I don't mean returning to the 'hood so you can hang with your old buddies. If you receive ink from writers when you're rising, don't shut them out once you reach millionaire status. Nothing will alienate them more.
7) The print media remains influential and the dot-coms are growing, but TV remains king. How you sell yourself when on camera instantly affects your marketability. Some fighters, like Vinny Pazienza, are naturals. Others need help, and hiring an image-consultant can make all the difference. I've never understood why 99 percent of boxing's high-profile fighters fail to do so.
8) Understand the generation gap. I'm particularly sensitive to this one because I'm now 20 years older than some of the fighters I'm covering. Nowadays, Zab Judah and Roy Jones make their ring-walks to hip-hop. Damned if I can relate. But if the fighter wants what the old-fogey writers can provide, it's up to him to adjust.
Steve Farhood, former editor of "The Ring" magazine, is a Boxing Analyst for Showtime