Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Phil is still Goal"father"

Aaron Heifetz, the press officer for the USWNT, was not amused that I'd sent the squad's goalkeeper coach, Phil Wheddon, an email asking for an interview.

Contrary to rumors flying about on the Internet, Wheddon is still gainfully employed by U.S. Soccer, Heifetz confirmed.

Basically, the regular protocol for any journalist covering U.S. Soccer is to put all media requests through the organization. On the men's team, it's possible to work around this somewhat by asking a question or two about the national team when interviewing a player after an MLS game, for example.

It's not that way with the women, of course, because there's no professional soccer league for the top players right now in the U.S.

Some U.S. soccer people do answer the media on their individual email accounts - notably Sunil Gulati, for one.

Though press people are usually delighted when there's a lot of publicity, Heifetz is less than thrilled at the attention the team has garnered lately. It's probably obvious why. He's also been really irritated at the lengths some reporters have gone to in trying to contact players for comments. I told him (and for those who think I'm devious, it was absolutely true) that I had never tried to contact a squad player on the women's senior team except through the official channels.

Anyway, Aaron's friendly, though grumpy, reminder was that the same scenario applied to USWNT staff members as well. All the cast and crew are on vacation right now, though, so Aaron isn't setting up any interviews.

Can the team threaten or censure reporters who try to get the story any which way they can? Not directly perhaps, but the USSF can exercise discretion via who they grant credentials and interviews to - they're basically not going feel any compulsion to lift a finger to help anyone who they feel has burned them or broken their rules.


East River said...

Would he trip out like this if you were contacting a WNT player who is playing for a European club team? Say someone playing in England or Sweden or Germany? What if you contacted someone's agent to setup an interview. How far does this guy's control go?

L.B. said...

I've talked to many players about the US national team many times while they've been with their club teams. It makes sense to get, say, Landon Donovan's thoughts on an upcoming World Cup qualifier after a Galaxy game if time permits than wait until he's physically with the national team. Nobody can really prevent that except for Landon or the player himself.

But certainly Andrea sums it up nicely with respect to her final sentence.

Dan said...

You're devious, Andrea!


Anonymous said...

Aaron has a long history of playing favorites with the media. He's more "public relations" than "media relations" or "press officer". I have spent time in Aaron's doghouse, and have watched others do the same. Another writer experienced difficulty after getting caught asking questions of a player - after the player had approached them and started the conversation.

There is another route around US Soccer that I've used, namely going through the player's agency. That might not work in this case as I'm not sure if Wheddon still has one.

Here's hoping that another bit of fallout from this World Cup is an increase in editorial independence for writers covering the national teams.

The most critical analysis and commentary seems to come from the untouchable outlets that U.S. Soccer depends on, and the underground outlets that don't care about credentials. The writers stuck in the middle, often young aspiring talent trying to work their way up, get caught in trying to balance editorial independence and keeping the access necessary to do their jobs.

pat said...

So, between this and the the cbc blog post about the incident that led to Hope Solo's statement to them - I'm getting a sense that this Aaron guy is... how to put this... a catty superjag. I'm assuming its his condescending voice in the background of Hope's video?

Is he? Does he really hold grudges like that? And if so, how much power does he wield? I mean, could any part of this whole mess be him "punishing" Hope for speaking to the press when he told her not to?

Furthermore, could he be the man behind the practiced, trite and self-righteous statements the players on the USWNT seem to love repeating? Like the "We're women of Heart" that Wambach trotted out this weekend?

Charlton Heston said...

I can't believe I'm about to say, as much as I'm an anti-MSM news consumer, that a journalist should take whatever action deemed ethical to obtain a quote to meet a deadline which effects their career. A sports journalist should not have their role dictated to by this chump Aaron when it suits his purpose. He is also another loser alongside Abby, Lilly and Ryan who represented our nation poorly in the WWC.

I'm surprised that you didn't tell him to go pound sand.

A.C. said...

I've seen more than one journalist arguing with press officers about interviewing players - some MLS teams want to keep a tight control over access. Some listen in on every interview, which has to affect the answers the players give.
Press officers can be very helpful a certain context, and aggravating in another. They probably think the same of us, actually.

Anonymous said...

AC, have you ever taken a look at the Press Officer in the Hope Solo interview and then taken a look at the 1999 world cup, after the pks, a guy with a golden vest running into the picture? The guy who makes it into the view before 3/4 of the team and the coaches?

I think you might find that... interesting.


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