Regarding Our Coverage of Last Saturday’s Rapids 2 Game

Mar 16, 2023 - 4:00 PM
A ball sits available for play at the south sideline at DICK’s Sporting Goods Park. | John A. Babiak

This article was co-written by Burgundy Wave Managing Editor Matt Pollard and Staff Writer Joseph Samelson. We both sign off what is written below.

Last Saturday, Joseph Samelson attended a friendly between Colorado Rapids 2 and Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC in Windsor, CO. As he had done with a previous preseason match, he live tweeted it. During the second half, he posted these two tweets. Joseph was seated next to a Hailstorm Communications staffer who were aware of these comments and did not object prior to or after them being tweeted.

Before fulltime, a member of Rapids Communications emailed us on behalf of the Front Office asking us to refrain from tweeting out the profanity heard during the match.

The first team was playing in San Jose that night and the Comms staffer who emailed us was under the weather, limiting the presence the club had in person in Windsor. Had the relevant Rapids staff been able to be there, this could have turned out differently. This molehill turned into a mountain for many reasons, some of which were circumstantial.

Joseph stood by his reporting that night. We stand by that reporting now regardless of what came next. Between Saturday night and Sunday morning, he posted these three tweets.

Our Reactions Were Mistakes:

If we could do it over, we would have handled this differently. Joseph wouldn’t have sent the second set of tweets. Matt would have contacted the club by Sunday morning to share our thoughts and work towards a mutual understanding. The club communicated to us directly, promptly, and privately. We should have reciprocated. We messed up.

Twitter likes oversimplified crazy headlines, nuance and details less so. Fans were coming off a bitter loss with the team yet to score a goal and just one point after three games. Emotions were not good.

It was not Joseph’s intent to ride that negativity wave by giving the fanbase red meat to then blow up the club’s mentions on Sunday to win in the court of public opinion. We should have been more conscious about what the reaction would be. To say nothing of the fact that we stood by idly while people made accusations towards the club without the full context.

Our Press Access Is Not Under Threat:

We’d like to make two corrections for the record.

First regarding Joseph’s concern about his actions affecting Burgundy Wave’s press access. Fans and media around the club are still scarred from the Chris Bianchi controversy in 2014, among other situations handled poorly from a media/PR standpoint. That’s a part of the club’s past and they’re working really hard to prove that’s not who they are anymore. Narratives can be hard to shake.

The last year and a half have been great in terms of press access. Matt’s been covering the club since 2016 and this is the healthiest media relations have been with Comms and the FO.

Joseph felt he was clearly saying he was concerned his actions could have consequences but that those had not been realized yet. If anything he was being proactive to prevent that. Twitter suggest that’s not how some saw it. We should have clarified that from the start.

Our press access is not at risk. At no point has it been between Saturday night and the time of publishing. This is not an Inter Miami-The Athletic situation. Not even close.

Matt intends to be in the press box for Saturday’s home match. Our photographer John Babiak will be on the sideline in a photographer pinnie. Joseph prefers his view from the stands and has not been in the press box since before COVID by choice. If he ever wanted to return to the press box, we believe the club would accommodate.

Matt met with club officials after first team training on Tuesday. The conversation was open, in good faith, and mutually empathetic. We feel heard. It ended with the club re-affirming they hope Burgundy Wave stays alive and want a working relationship that empowers that.

We Were Misleading:

Secondly, regarding Joseph’s argument being that this was a public event and thus those curse word were public comments. “The Rapids made it clear last night that I must refrain from reporting things that team employees say in public” was misleading, even a lie. We were told to refrain from reporting on the profanity, nothing else.

Hailstorm listed this game as “spectators not allowed.” We were given direct access to something the public was not. Friends and family (including some children) of Hailstorm staff were allowed to attend. In that regard, there were bystanders present who could clearly hear what was said during the match.

Public comments to us mean what’s said in an interview on the record, at a public event, on social media, etc. These were not public comments. That said, our access was granted to specifically report on the game to the public. We feel we were within our right to report them.

We can see how the club would feel the second set of tweets were deceitful and even malicious. If some don’t believe us when we say that was not our intent, we understand. There’s no way to undo what's happened. We didn’t scramble the egg but we are responsible for cracking it open and watching as Twitter burnt it to a crisp with pitchforks and torches.

We look forward to conducting ourselves in a manner that rebuilds trust. Hopefully that Tuesday meeting and this article are the start of that.

We Stand by Our Reporting:

We’ll end with how this all got started. Being asked to not report profanity said by players and coaches (during a game we were given access to report on) is hypocritical. It could set a poor precedent.

When Robin Fraser’s contract was extended last year, the club tweeted this video that had Fraser swearing in the first two seconds. Matt has tweeted out press conference quotes which contained profanity. A club staffer liked that tweet. Elevate, the club’s behind the scenes short film series, has included video where profanity is said. Many of those soundbites come from moments not open to the public nor independent media. The club does mute the audio with the actual swear word in all of these cases.

We do not see a functional difference between these examples and Joseph’s coverage.

Professional athletes and their coaches curse. Sometimes a lot. It’s not a surprise. Rapids players and staff have been suspended for foul language before. MLS has become litigious in punishing players for saying racial slurs during matches and on social media.

Profanity is a part of the game whether you like it or not. It’s a reflection of humanity’s imperfection. We think there’s some beauty in that. Removing it from our coverage would make our work incomplete. We believe the club understands where we’re coming from. We hope this will not be a blanket policy in the future.

For these reasons, we stand by Joseph’s reporting. The stuff that came after, yeah we ****ed up. We accept that L and we’ll learn from it to be better in the future. Just like the Rapids are doing in their preparation for Minnesota on Saturday.

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