At first glance, the knee-jerk reaction to Norv Turner banning television cameras from the Washington Redskins' morning workout Tuesday might have been righteous indignation and a few questions about the wisdom of closing media access to the team at a time when new owner Daniel Snyder is running a series of TV commercials trying to sell 2,000 club seats.
On second glance, a knee-twitch might be more in order over a matter Turner now insists is a "non-issue." He proved it the next day by allowing camera crews from all local stations to spend countless reels of tape focusing on his football team going through its paces on a steamy morning and afternoon at training camp in Frostburg.
Ever since the days when George Allen pulled down the blinds at the old Redskin Park to prevent peeking, closed many of his practices and, one year, even set up a press room in a tiny camper outside the gates, I've frequently been on the soapbox to decry the increasingly diminishing media access across the entire NFL.
The Redskins in the Turner Era are hardly the worst offender, though I do wish this accessible and cooperative coach would consider allowing beat reporters to watch all his team's regular season practices instead of only the final 20 minutes. But that's another story.
This week, Turner said he decided to close Tuesday's morning session to the cameras simply to make a point. He was upset with coverage of the previous day's session that focused on the condition of quarterback Brad Johnson's knee. Specifically, he was concerned that the cameras were rolling during a walk-through session, when players are going significantly less than full speed, and then making conclusions about Johnson's health.
"I'm on Rene's show [WJLA sports anchor Rene Knott] and he shows a piece of tape and says, 'Doesn't it look like he's really limping?' " Turner said in an interview. "I said to him on the air this was a pre-practice warm-up, and then I said Brad had a heck of an afternoon practice. My only concern was that if people are going to evaluate these guys, at least show them at full speed.
"They had access to the afternoon practice. I didn't ban anyone from that. I'm not trying to keep anyone from getting tape. They keep telling me they need to shoot the morning because it gives them more time to get stories on the air, but Channel 9 had the last play of our afternoon practice on the same day, Casey Weldon throwing an interception. They found a way.
"But really, it's a non-issue. I want them here. I like the exposure we get, I want our guys to enjoy that part of it, too. I just don't like the idea of of showing people at half-speed and then saying they don't look very good. I was trying to make a point. They want us to be accountable. I think they have to be, too."
Rich Daniel, Channel 7's executive producer for sports, clearly disagreed.
"If you buy that theory, then if a guy looks less than perfect at half speed, what's he going to look like at full speed?" he said. "We talked to Norv about it afterward. He understands how we feel and he knows why we're there. . . . I think Norv has many things to be concerned about this year, and media relations should not be anywhere close to the top of his list."
Turner's temporary ban came 10 days after the organization had decimated its public relations staff, firing virtually the entire crew a week before training camp began. Some of the dismissals were puzzling considering Snyder had sent a letter to all employees shortly after he acquired the team telling them that their jobs were not in jeopardy.
At the moment, team public relations are being handled on an interim basis by Karl Swanson, who works for Snyder Communications and clearly has no interest in taking over the same role for this team. He's been in and out of camp, so most day-to-day media relations are being handled by two young employees who were interns on the staff only last season.
You have to think that if someone with a bit more experience had been around on Tuesday, the camera ban would never have happened. Instead, perhaps a dialogue between all parties concerned would have been arranged and some sort of accommodation satisfactory to both sides would have been reached.
I have no problem with showing tape of walk-throughs or any other portions of training camp practices. Why else would anyone even think about going to Frostburg? The stations were reporting on a significant story, and as long as those reports are fair, balanced and accurate, keep the pictures and commentary coming and let viewers decide for themselves how Johnson or anyone else looks at half or full speed.
Another side of me also understands Turner's point of view. His concerns about protecting his players are admirable, and his own accessibility is generally beyond reproach. In short, he's as media friendly as any coach in the NFL. Considering his own self-imposed standards to succeed as well as the pressure he's under these days to win or else lose his job, let's consider it a closed issue, unless it happens again.