I have covered the Chicago Bears since the Super Bowl campaign of 2006, so this will be my fifth season on the beat.
Considering the fact that I talk to football players for a living, I have incredibly little to complain about from a professional standpoint. Never a day goes by when I don't thank my lucky stars for being able to pay the bills by doing my best to break down the inner workings of the Cover-2 defense.
That being said, the organization has seemingly gone out of its way to make print, radio and television work much harder each year I've had a lanyard hanging around my neck. Every OTA used to be open to the media. Now, it's only four of them. Room and board was previously provided throughout training camp free of charge. Now, we pay by the night and only lunch is served. I even had my photo credential taken away a while back. The reason? The NFL wants to clean up the sidelines. But I talked to the Getty and AP guys. They both assured me there's plenty of room down there.
Then there was the memo sitting on my desk in the press room at Halas Hall before Wednesday's OTA, detailing a dozen "media coverage guidelines" that we must follow going forward. Coming off three straight years missing the playoffs, and with criticism firing from all angles both locally and nationally as a result, it appears the Bears are trying to control the message more than ever.
Here are five of these said guidelines that will more or less make it more difficult for Chicago fans to know everything they want to know about their favorite team:
Guideline No. 8: Loitering in the hallway or lobby at any time (during open locker room or practice availabilities) is prohibited.
Guideline No. 9: Offensive coaches are available off the field on Wednesday, special teams and defensive coaches are available off the field on Thursday. Each of the coordinators and assistant coaches will not be available at any other time, including in the locker room after games. Media are respectfully asked not to call any members of the coaching staff on their own.
Guideline No. 10: Please do not report on offensive or defensive strategy. This includes describing formations, personnel groups or nonconventional
"[Mike] Martz has unveiled an awful lot already, and Saturday afternoon we even saw some option-type stuff being run during positional drills. First, [Devin] Hester took an end-around handoff from Cutler, sprinted around the right side and then pitched the ball to Matt Forte near the numbers. One snap later, Forte and Chester Taylor lined up in the backfield together, and this time it was Forte getting the handoff from Cutler before running right and then flipping the ball back to Taylor."
Do Bears fans love reading stuff like that? Yes. Does anyone truly believe Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers is perusing every Windy City publication before putting together his game plan? No. Do the Bears think so? Yes, apparently.
Guideline No. 11: Please do not quote, paraphrase or report the comments made by coaches or players during a practice session.
Guideline No. 12: Please do not report on practice injuries until the team has provided an official update.
* * * * * * * * * *
Naturally, none of this applies to the team's official Web site, where of course you will never read anything remotely critical about Lovie Smith and Co.
For clarification purposes, these guidelines only apply when the team is at Halas Hall. During training camp on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, media will surely have more breathing room since those practices are open to the public and every Grabowski in the crowd has a camera phone and a Twitter account these days, although fans were prohibited from shooting video this past summer for the first time. I'm fully expecting all press cell phone privileges, including Twitter, to be banned from Halas Hall practices before long, as the Ravens and some other teams have already done.
Pretty soon, none of this will matter anymore to the lanyard-sporting crowd. The Bears are simply going to write all of our stories for us.
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John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.
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