What do athletes owe the media?

I’ve rarely felt comfortable in athletes’ locker rooms. I’m not terribly fond of “mixed zones” — those awkward mobs of reporters testing their deodorants and their recording equipment to get quotes from an athlete after a game.

Call me elitist if you like, but I often wonder why we need so many people in one spot — all getting the same quotes, taking turns asking the questions that “need” asking. Why do athletes owe us such a repetitive exercise?

In my morning browse today, I stumbled into a story that put that question in a larger frame — this SBNation longform piece by Brandon Sneed that also told the Dawkins story of returning from tragedy.

Sort of.

For a while, it seems to be about Dawkins’ reluctance to talk. And for a while (they take “longform” seriously at SBN), it seems self-indulgent, talking about the importance of persistence in journalism and calling back to a definitive profile of Frank Sinatra.

Then it turns into something more. The question at the heart of the story is whether we as journalists really have the right to demand answers from athletes … or more people, for that matter.

It’s not as if Dawkins did anything wrong. Far from it. His sister was killed in an auto accident, and his grief has changed his life. He stepped away from basketball for a year — actually, he was pushed by Mike Krzyzewski, who thought it important for Dawkins to work through his issues and get help before returning to the team.

But that’s the story my former Chronicle colleague Seth Davis tells at Sports Illustrated. And he tells it very well. The story at SBN is the story of how many times we can ask someone to relive the worst part of his life just so we can add our own analysis.

And Sneed asks a question that could and perhaps should haunt journalists: “How can you have an honest conversation with someone you ultimately just want something from?”

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