CHARLOTTE – Carolina Panthers players worked out in private for the second straight day Wednesday at a South Charlotte high school, much to the chagrin of many members of the media and some of the team’s fans.
A lot of folks are downright angry, taking personal offense to the players’ decision not to let them in.
Me? Not so much.
Personally, I understand their decision and I’m here to help you understand it, too.
The initial reaction, especially when you have a vested interest in the team, is to rip the players and call them everything from selfish brats to arrogant you-know-whats.
Do I wish the Panthers had opened the camp to the media? Sure, I do. As the only reporter to have covered every game in Panthers history, I certainly would like to document these rare and historic player-run practices, even if it means watching big guys run around in shorts and t-shirts at half speed in balmy 90-degree weather. There are numerous storylines to follow with this year’s team, and it would have been interesting to write about them.
But when you put aside personal agendas, something we in the media often have trouble doing, you begin to understand the decision not to open things up.
The reasons for keeping it closed are valid.
Jordan Gross and Travelle Wharton, the two men who organized and flipped the bill for the voluntary two-week camp, didn’t want reporters there for a variety of reasons, one of them being they don’t want it known who was and who wasn’t at practice out of respect for their teammates who chose to stay away and work out on their own. They don’t want those guys portrayed as poor teammates.
The who’s-here, who’s-not-here argument applies most specifically to players like Matt Moore, DeAngelo Williams, Thomas Davis, Charles Johnson, James Anderson and Richard Marshall, guys who are unsure if they’ll be unrestricted or restricted free agents once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. Like seemingly everything else in the NFL right now, the rules regarding free agency are undetermined. Those players may not want to tip their hands in terms of whether or not they plan to return to the Panthers.
That goes double for wide receiver Steve Smith, who wasn’t at Tuesday's practice and has made it pretty clear behind the scenes he wants out of Carolina.
There’s also the injury factor.
The chance of player getting injured during what’s essentially a glorified walk-through is pretty small, but if it were to happen and was documented in the media it could potentially come back to haunt a player up for a new contract or even those who are under contract since these aren’t sanctioned practices. That’s reason enough to close practices right there.
And then there’s the media scrutiny.
Inevitably, the media’s job is to write about who looked good -- and in the case of guys like Duke Robinson a year ago, who may have looked out of shape. That’s part of the hassle the players didn’t want to deal with over the next two weeks. The players want to use this time to help each other get back into football shape, not be ridiculed for being out of it. Can’t particularly blame them there.
Listen, Gross and Wharton have been standup guys for the Panthers for years, always accountable and accessible in terms of meeting the media’s requests. Gross, in fact, won the Tom Berry “Good Guy Award” given by the media to the player who is most accountable and helpful to the media.
On Tuesday I managed to “infiltrate” the first players-only practice almost by accident, simply driving into the parking lot, parking my car and walking down to the field.
Practice was wrapping up at the time and I saw Gross coming off the field.
“I’m not trying to be a jerk,” Gross said of the decision to close practice.
I didn’t take it personally.
Nor should you.
The players have their reasons, whether you agree with them or not.
The reality is Gross and Wharton are trying to make the best of a bad situation in clearly uncharted territory. At least they took the initiative to get the ball rolling. If there’s one small mistake they made it might have been holding the “media day” on the last day of camp (June 9) rather than the first. Had they gotten the interviews out of the way early, the media folks probably would have left them alone.
The bottom line here is this is really much ado about nothing.
In terms of practice, you’re not missing much, believe me.
Nobody is winning a starting job in the next two weeks – not Cam Newton, Jimmy Clausen or Matt Moore -- especially when there are no coaches present to watch them.
To me, the frustration over this whole closed practice issue is a byproduct of there being so little news to report during the lockout. Yes, I know, NFL fans are starving for news and the media is starving for stories and you feel like the players are depriving us of that.
But eventually these stories will be told, I promise you.
They just won’t be told right now.
Frankly, not many of them can be told until there's a new new collective bargaining agreement. Until then, like everything else in this frustrating lockout period, we’ll just have to wait.
Steve Reed: 704-869-1841;