Playing a managerial role at B/R certainly has occasional perks, as I was invited to Los Angeles to attend Wednesday’s seventh annual Gatorade High School Player of the Year luncheon at the Biltmore Hotel.
In addition to a comped surf 'n' turf meal and a few laughs courtesy of Stuart Scott acting as emcee, the intimate one-on-one post-show media interview atmosphere, to which only 21 news outlets were given access, provided us with an exceptional opportunity.
I was able to discuss new media (and B/R in particular) and the changing landscape of journalism with a couple of the biggest names in sports on the planet and some of the brightest stars of tomorrow.
The end result from this small sample size was an enthusiastic thumbs up to new media as a means of bringing fans and athletes closer together than ever before.
“I think it’s good for fans to be able to interact and give their opinions,” said Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year Matt Hobgood, the No. 5 overall pick in June’s Major League Baseball Draft by the Baltimore Orioles. “Whether it’s positive or negative, it keeps everybody involved, and it’s good for sports in general.”
To tell you the truth, I was a bit taken aback when I realized how visible the site has already become. I couldn’t get two words past "Aron Glatzer with Bleacher Report" to Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant before he responded, “Oh, you’re with Bleacher Report!”
OK, in fairness, the exclamation mark may have very well been a question mark instead, but he had a smile on his face, commented on how he’d rather be walking around in my Nike Frankensteins than his formal dress shoes, and clearly was familiar with B/R.
Twitter received the strongest endorsement of all as an outlet for athletes and fans to connect on the same medium, which really didn’t surprise me one bit with the number of athletes who have active accounts there at this point.
“Fans do feel a connect when guys (athletes) write what they are feeling and what’s going on (in the locker room),” said Detroit Lions rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford, who presented the award for Gatorade Male Athlete of the Year along with Durant and USA soccer star Landon Donovan. “It’s a great way for us players to give back to our fans and get them in the moment.”
Durant, a rare combination of the words "NBA superstar" and "extreme humility," has recognized the value of player interaction with the fans as well.
“We never had that. I never talked with football, basketball, or baseball players growing up, so it’s a great outlet for fans to see that we’re all going through the same things (in life); just we play basketball for a living,” said the self-described regular guy, still awestruck by the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. “I had a lot of questions growing up (for pro athletes), and it’s good to be able to answer them and get to know people.”
Softball superstar Jessica Mendoza, owner of Olympic gold and silver medals, has developed an affinity for her own online written contributions with which all of us at B/R have been able to relate.
“I find myself blogging almost like a reporter...it’s opening up a landscape where everyone is a reporter, although some are much better than others,” said Mendoza, who presented the Gatorade Female Athlete of the Year along with volleyball legend Misty-May Treanor. “For a fan, I’ve noticed that the popularity is increasing because you feel like you’re there (when reading firsthand reports from athletes).”
High-profile athletes on their way to successful collegiate careers have been equally interested in the evolving medium of sports journalism as they make a mark at the next level.
“I’m excited about it, but I try not to pay too much attention to it,” said Garrett Gilbert, incoming University of Texas quarterback and recipient of the Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year Award, who admitted he gathers most of his sports news from watching ESPN's SportsCenter in the locker room. “It doesn’t matter as long as you perform on the field.”
Along with Gilbert, Skylar Diggins (basketball standout recipient of Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year Award), Reed Connor, Brandon Knight, Dillon Powers, Hobgood, Curtis Beach, Gina Mancuso, Jordan Hasay, Rachel Quon, Kenzie Fowler, and Anna Jelmini have excelled in sports, in the classroom, and in the community to get where they are, and the fans will be there to discuss their future impact in the sporting arena through outlets like Bleacher Report.