Derek Jeter Still Controls The Message With The Players’ Tribune
“I’ve made my fair share of mistakes with the media,” Derek Jeter said in an interview three days after he retired from baseball.
Whatever mistakes he made with the media, they certainly didn’t leave the lasting impression that his iconic hits, dives and backhanded flips did.
To many fans, Jeter’s latest girlfriend proved more interesting than any postgame comments he made. He respectfully answered questions from members of the media like they were a grandparent on the phone. Ending the exchange as quickly as possible perpetually seemed like his goal. When speaking to the media, his primary objective was to avoid controversy, which is why the mission of his new website and business venture makes perfect sense.
The Players’ Tribune is a website where athletes can write directly to their fans. They bypass the media and set their own agenda, writing about whatever they want in a neatly packaged article on a beautifully designed site. The site will never feature an angry 140 character rant that an athlete posted after he was booed by his own fans.
Thus far, the site has introduced four senior editors (Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, auto racing star Danica Patrick, Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin and Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love) and one contributing editor (Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas). It also featured a letter from former NHL star Brendan Shanahan offering advice to his younger self.
Super Bowl winning quarterback Wilson was the first senior editor to pen a piece for the website, which appeared on the site on Oct. 2, one day after it launched with a letter from Jeter.
“I realize I’ve been guarded,” Jeter wrote in a letter announcing the site. “I learned early on in New York, the toughest media environment in sports, that just because a reporter asks you a question doesn’t mean you have to answer. I attribute much of my success in New York to my ability to understand and avoid unnecessary distractions.”
“I do think fans deserve more than ‘no comments’ or ‘I don’t knows.’ Those simple answers have always stemmed from a genuine concern that any statement, any opinion or detail, might be distorted. I have a unique perspective. Many of you saw after that final home game, when the enormity of the moment hit me. I’m not a robot. Neither are the other athletes who at times might seem unapproachable. We all have emotions. We just need to be sure our thoughts will come across the way we intend.”
Blake Griffin’s first-person account was the most interesting article so far. Griffin wrote about former Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Here’s how his piece for the Players’ Tribune started:
“Donald Sterling had me by the hand,” Griffin wrote. “You know that thing elderly women do where they grab the top of your hand with just their fingers and lead you around? That’s what he was doing. We were in Malibu for his annual White Party, and it was the first time I was meeting him since the Clippers had drafted me in the spring 2009. He led me through the house to the balcony overlooking his tennis court. The whole party was set up out there. White tents. White umbrellas. White cloth. I showed up in all white. Everyone showed up in all white. Then there was Donald, standing on the balcony overlooking it all, wearing all black. “Isn’t this just fabulous?” he said.”
If the website continues to publish content as compelling as Griffin’s first article, there is no doubt that it will be successful and become a weekly destination for sports fans. Readers will come back to the site whenever it produces fresh content. The question is: how often will that happen? So far, it’s been weekly.
According to the website, “The Players’ Tribune aims to provide unique insight into the daily sports conversation and to publish first-person stories directly from athletes.”
“My goal is for the site to ultimately transform how athletes and newsmakers share information, bringing fans closer than ever to the games they love,” Jeter wrote.
That was the last line of Jeter’s introduction letter and it’s probably true that the former shortshop wants to change the way information is disseminated. It is also probably true that Jeter hopes that The Players’ Tribune becomes a lucrative business venture, one that ideally mirrors his time with the Yankees: a team that tried to squeeze every cent of revenue out of the last season of his career, even slapping a commemorative patch on team jerseys and hats for the final month of the 2014 season.
Jeter has surrounded himself with a talented, veteran staff to help guide the site. The site’s editorial director is Gary Hoening, who was the editorial director of ESPN Publishing and a founding editor of ESPN the Magazine.
The staff also includes Maureen Cavanagh, a former photography director for Sports Illustrated, who is the creative director and Sarah Turcotte, a former senior writer and general editor at ESPN the Magazine, who serves as the site’s executive editor.
Will the website work for Jeter?
Based on his career as a baseball player and the high-profile athletes he can and already has recruited to contribute to the site, there’s no reason to think it won’t.