Tom Bowles was fired from his “freelance motorsports” contract at SportsIllustrated.com after cheering in the press box — and defending his cheering — following the Feb. 20 Daytona 500 race in which Trevor Bayne “became the youngest Daytona 500 winner.”
AOL Sporting News summarized the controversy: “Since the race, Twitter and journalism message boards have been ablaze with debate about the topic, although to call it a debate is to misuse that word. It’s been largely purists condemning those who clapped.”
The Nascar Insider even noted that Sirius Speedway’s Dave Moody has called the incident “Clapgate.”
Bowles blogged about his firing March 1 on FrontStretch.com. He described his reaction to the race’s end:
“Before I could control it, my hands were coming together to join them, caught up with fans and media alike in a moment we could all appreciate – but one fans and media are told never, ever to experience together. That day marked my first and last claps working as a NASCAR reporter for SI.com.”
According to Bowles, “don’t cheer in the press box” is the first “sacred rule” for sportswriters.The second rule, he wrote, is “Apologize Profusely When Important People Think You Have Sinned,” which he didn’t follow by defending himself on Twitter.
Bowles’ point of view:
“I understand the importance of impartiality in reporting. But last time I checked, where you’re supposed to be judged is whether that actually shows up on paper. Just like Dale Earnhardt’s death in 2001, an incident that I’m certain left some media crying, events can overcome all of us in exceptional circumstances.”
“Fact: I clapped, and then shook Trevor Bayne’s hand on the way out along with many assembled media in attendance. Analysis: I still wrote a well-reasoned, well-thought out post-race column on a variety of topics that would have happened if Bayne or Kyle Busch had won.”
However, Inside Line cited an unnamed “high-ranking official” at Sports Illustrated as saying that the cheering wasn’t the sole reason Bowles was fired. That unnamed person is quoted as saying:
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“This was the latest in a series of events that have come to the attention of the editors. This last incident was the final straw.”
Bowles reportedly told InsideLine he “was never given a copy of the SI or Time Inc. ethics policy and that ethics were not mentioned in his freelance contract with Time Inc.”
Some, like the Courier-Journal’s Eric Crawford’s, stressed that cheering isn’t acceptable if attending the event is a job, not a fan event — even if you’re “the only one in the room not clapping on a given occasion.”
And SportsJournalism.org offered a list of “ten good reasons for a very good old rule” of no cheering and commented “Shut up with the cheering. It’s a newsroom, not a sports bar.”
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Dave Kallmann described his “official stance” as being against “reporters cheering at a sporting event that they are covering. It’s unprofessional and, at the very least, disrespectful to those who are trying to work.”
“Sports departments have fought for eons to be considered on the same journalistic level as ‘real”’reporters. This wouldn’t help. Can you imagine Helen Thomas applauding a speech by the president, whomever that might have happened to be? (No, a NASCAR race isn’t the White House, but I hope you see the point.)”
Acknowledging that “it’s possible to get caught up in a moment in history,” Kallmann stated that “I don’t care who wins; I root for a good story. So I did not applaud for Bayne’s victory, but I knew it would make for a great tale.”
However, RacinToday.com senior writer Larry Woody called Bowles’ firing “absurd” and claimed that “for the past 40 years or so (that’s as far back as I can personally testify to) cheering by reporters in racing press boxes — and all other press boxes — has always gone on.” Ultimately, Woody stated “I don’t care if the media cheers in the press box as long as they don’t cheer in their reporting.”
iMediaEthics is writing to Sports Illustrated and Bowles for comment and will update with any response.