Thursday, January 23, 2003

Practices closed to media

SAN DIEGO - The NFL stopped pool reporters from watching drills Wednesday, even though that portion of practice has been open in the past.

Practices are closed to the public and the media, except for one pool reporter for each conference. Peter King of Sports Illustrated is covering the Oakland Raiders this year, while Dan Pompei of The Sporting News is covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

King and Pompei were allowed to watch players stretching, plus individual and special teams' drills. But they were barred from watching offensive and defensive drills involving plays being practiced for Sunday's game.

"There were legitimate concerns raised by both teams," league spokesman Greg Aiello said.

Aiello said only 20-to-30 minutes of the practices were closed, and would be again on Thursday. The decision was made by the league after the teams asked them to do so on Tuesday.

"This is how it is going to be from now on," Aiello said. "At one time there was no pool reporter at the Super Bowl. It was instituted after an injury situation in practice that wasn't disclosed.

"Now that the clubs raised concerns about it, we agree it's a very valid point."

However, nearly 75 fans watched some individual defensive drills at the Bucs' workout at the UC San Diego campus, a state university. They also could not see the team drills.

"It's the American way," coach Jon Gruden said. "I'm not paranoid about anything."

For the past 19 years - or since the last time the Raiders were in the Super Bowl - pool reporters were allowed to watch entire practices. Just as during the regular season with all 32 teams, they are not allowed to write about specific plays or formations. But they are allowed to report injuries.

"The sole purpose of the pool report during Super Bowl week is to provide information on the physical condition of players for the game," Aiello said. "The revised access guidelines will continue to allow a full opportunity to cover this aspect of the practice week, including total access at the Friday and Saturday practices and a post-practice interview each day with the head coach."

Adam Schefter, president of the Professional Football Writers of America, who choose the pool reporters, wondered why the action was taken this year.

"What is disappointing about this decision," Schefter said, "is that in the past each Super Bowl team has had final authority on what can and cannot be included in the daily pool report. This action has not been taken in the past, and the PFWA sees no reason for it to be taken now.

"We will continue pursuing this matter with the NFL and hope that they would allow us to cover practice the way we always have - with professionalism, with integrity and with no intent to compromise the teams' strategies."

Two reporters, Jim Trotter of the San Diego Union-Tribune and T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times, watched portions of the Raiders' practice from a bluff outside the Chargers' publicly financed facility.

Trotter and Simers were chased by NFL security guards from one area that overlooks the field where the Raiders were working. A police office told them he had a letter from the property manager saying they were off-limits.

They left and went to the nearby San Diego County Sheriff's Department and received permission to watch from a second bluff located on public property outside the practice facility.

Again, they were confronted by NFL security, but were allowed to remain on the bluff with the warning they could not use binoculars to watch practice.

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