The Editors' Blog

December 24, 2013

Tony Romo will play or he won’t

I was interested yesterday by the news surrounding Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. Mostly as a journalist, mildly as a sports fan.

I was interested yesterday by the news surrounding Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. Mostly as a journalist, mildly as a sports fan.

ESPN reported that Romo was finished for the season because of a herniated disk. ESPN cited an unnamed “league source.”

This was huge news in the world of the NFL, because Dallas plays the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday night, and the winner will win the NFC East. If the Cowboys lose and are out of the playoffs, the entire Dallas coaching staff could be fired. So there is a lot riding on this game, and - if ESPN is right - the Cowboys will be going into the most important game of the season with a backup quarterback.

But then, yesterday, the Cowboys’ coach, Jason Garrett, said Romo could still play Sunday. Here is how ESPN reported Garrett’s comments:

At his weekly news conference, coach Jason Garrett wouldn't rule Romo out, instead saying he would receive treatment each day this week and the team would evaluate the quarterback's injury each day.

"We have not made that determination at all at this point," Garrett said when asked about ESPN's report. "Like with any player, the day after a game you just want to see what the injury is and we've done that with Tony and we want to get him involved in treatment as quickly as we can and we started that process."

I went to the Dallas Morning News web site. The Morning News did not have an unnamed “league source.” The paper reported that ESPN was saying Romo was finished for the season, but also reported what the Cowboy’s were saying publicly, i.e., that it was a day-to-day situation and no determination had been made that Romo was too injured to play.

The Morning News staff has sources inside the Cowboys organization, and if the Morning News felt comfortable reporting that Romo was definitely, positively out for Sunday’s game, they would publish that. But the Morning News hasn’t, as of late this morning. And the Cowboys are still publicly saying that Romo may play.

It may be that the Morning News is being wisely cautious. The stakes are arguably higher for the Morning News than ESPN. The Morning News has to live in Dallas. If it reports today that Romo isn’t going to play, and he does play on Sunday, folks in Dallas will remember that the Morning News was wrong on a big story.

So the newspaper has decided to feel its way along the story. ESPN has a scoop that may be absolutely right, and the Morning News is probably feeling beat up today, but you never know how these things turn out. Most good journalists would rather be right late than wrong first.

ESPN is in a different position than the Morning News. ESPN is a business partner of the NFL. ESPN pays the NFL billions to air its games. So when an ESPN reporter calls up a “league source,” it is not just any old reporter calling up, it is a representative of the media company that is providing the NFL with lots and lots of money. The NFL has incentives to be good to ESPN, and that includes making sure that ESPN doesn’t look stupid by airing a major story that is wrong.

The great thing about all this is that we will know soon enough if Romo plays or not.

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