“If I live 40 more years,” said Michael Wilbon of throwing out the first pitch at Wrigley Field last Sunday night, “it will still be the coolest and most bizarre thing I have ever done.” Adds the Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein, “bizarre because of the ethical line he seemingly had crossed.”
“When they asked me to do it,” Wilbon said, “I thought: No. Sportswriters, journalists don’t do that.”
Then Wilbon remembered: He’s not just a sportswriter. He estimates that no more than 20 percent of his “PTI” audience would even realize he writes a sports column for the Washington Post.
“I have to realize what it is I do now,” he said. “I’m not a writer covering the NFL. It’s a painful truth, but I am lucky. When ESPN asks me to do something promotional, well, they’re my employer, too.”
Wilbon has worn a Northwestern softball jersey and a Walter Payton jersey during “PTI.” He doesn’t try to hide his allegiances, in part because although he loves the Bears, he gladly will rip GM Jerry Angelo on the air.
“There’s fairness but no objectivity,” he said. “I’m not going to pretend I don’t root for the Bulls. The people we cover are much cooler with that then this false pretense of objectivity.”
And yet, Wilbon still felt weird Sunday night at Wrigley. He couldn’t bring himself to walk in the press box.
“I wasn’t in that role,” he said.
Indeed he wasn’t, and while I have no problem with Wilbon embracing the trappings of celebrity, I’m not sure he or Greenstein are really addressing the most important point. I cannot imagine there is one single PTI viewer — whether or not they read the WaPo — who is troubled by Wilbon wearing a throwback jersey — as long as he’s got a receipt. But the moment he accepts perks from the Cubs and their publicly held ownership that include tossing out a ceremonial first pitch andbeing asked to sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”, he’s no more a journalist than Eddie Vedder, Ozzie Osbourne, Michael Keaton, Mongo McMichael or any other celeb. C’mon, Le Anne, don’t make us wait 3 weeks for your thoughts on this.