Jim Harbaugh

Jim Harbaugh’s ice bucket challenge and journalistic integrity

When 49ers PR Director Bob Lange asked if I’d join a sizable list of beat writers in accepting Jim Harbaugh’s “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge,” I didn’t take much time to think before saying, “Yeah, put me down.” At that moment, it seemed like something I’d regret more if I didn’t do it.

What was the worst I’d have to deal with by saying yes? Probably a brief shock to the system. Then, maybe the prospect of watching practice soaking wet and feeling kind of damp during the hourlong drive back up north.

It actually went a lot better than expected. The 49ers handed us t-shirts and dri-fit shorts to wear, taking a potentially uncomfortable commute out of the equation. We walked from the media room through the swanky Brocade Club to the Levi’s Stadium 50-yard line. We each grabbed a Gatorade bucket — some were full of water and ice, some with just water. We took those buckets to the east/visitor’s sideline, in front of most of the fans who came out to attend Friday’s open practice. Harbaugh, attacking his bucket shower with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind, demanded for more ice. A LOT MORE ice. Ice was retrieved from somewhere in the club.

The buckets were lined up, and we stood in front of them, facing the crowd. Harbaugh stood in the center of our line. Joe Staley, Quinton Dial, Craig Dahl, Quinton Patton, Kenneth Acker, Mike Iupati, Adam Snyder, Marcus Martin and Justin Smith (who chuckled and asked, “Who talks the most stuff?” when deciding who to drench), grabbed buckets.

Acker got me pretty good. (GIF via NinersNation):

Harbaugh Ice Bucket

 A few notes —

  • Matt Maiocco (far left) and Jim Harbaugh were the only ones who didn’t change clothes beforehand, and I’m guessing CSN Bay Area made a big to-do about their 49ers insider getting his work outfit all wet.
  • Patton was a little premature with his dousing, but he did a great job splitting the contents of his bucket between Lindsay Jones and Chris Biderman.
  • I didn’t get the memo that we were supposed to do the “V” sign, and instead I just raised my arms like a dork.
  • This was a genius idea from Harbaugh, by the way. He knew he’d get asked about this, because Pete Carroll tweeted about challenging the other NFC West head coaches. The reporters could either decline Harbaugh’s challenge and risk looking like wimps, or accept his challenge and risk looking like shills. No wonder he was so disappointed about the absences of Lowell Cohn and Tim Kawakami.

On a warm afternoon, getting a quick ice water shower while wearing a t-shirt and shorts (a lot of us took our shoes and socks off, as well) isn’t bad at all. Kind of refreshing, really. Everyone went back and changed back into their normal clothes, except Maiocco (who changed into something else) and Harbaugh (who coached in the same fleece sweatshirt and khakis — of course).


Harbaugh called out several beat writers by name earlier that afternoon during his press conference, and most of them accepted. At least two declined.

I walked through the AT&T Park press box a day later, and a newspaper reporter stopped me and asked, “Hey, aren’t you kind of the media police?”

I laughed. “I wouldn’t exactly say that, but …”

“What’d you think of those reporters doing the ice bucket thing with Harbaugh?”

I then explained that I was one of the persons who did the ice bucket thing with Harbaugh. Then we discussed the situation briefly, how he and another newspaper reporter were talking earlier and neither of them would have done it.

I could see his point: fraternizing with someone you’re covering isn’t exactly kosher. And, despite the fact that this was done for a good cause (ALS awareness/fundraising … I donated $60 after taking the challenge, FWIW), it portrayed the kind of united front between team/league and media that a lot of journalists, especially ones who’ve been around a while, try to avoid.

While I’m fully aware of the “code” (which holds some similarities to the “unwritten rules” in Major League Baseball), I don’t really have a lot of motivation to put the ethics I learned years ago in my freshman “Intro To Journalism” class above all else. I went into that class thinking there was a decent shot I’d work for a newspaper someday. Then the print industry went to crap, and I ended up with myself as an editor. Some editor, too. Total hack.

I’m not going to grow up to be Tim Keown, Tim Brown or Mr. Kawakami. Things change, and one either adapts or dies. So these may get adjusted someday, but in 2014 my top priorities (other than growing this site) include:

  1. Correct information and quotes
  2. No plagiarism or slideshows

I’m willing to bend on the slideshows, but the rest is rock solid.

I don’t want to be a shill for the teams, either. But I don’t see how letting a rookie cornerback throw some cold water on my head is going to change my coverage … other than rooting for Acker (+2.4 from PFF yesterday!) to make the 53-man roster a little more than I would’ve otherwise.

OK, I see why someone might have some questions about this.

Traditional journalists decry the rise of “fan blogs” and news aggregating sites, and despite my attempts to break some stories and criticize teams, players, coaches and radio hosts from time to time, BASG ain’t the New York Times … which is fine. I’m trying to make an honest living, sure. But the era where scores of journalists can graduate college and pay the rent from what they earn simply by creating content — without selling ANYTHING — is coming to an end.

Less is expected of me in this realm, but does that make it right? Does “right” even matter in this case? Part of me wonders if I’ve bored most of the readers with this post, and whether anyone really cares about this story at all — other than some credentialed writers, tsk-tsking in press boxes, who either find the whole thing appalling or might be a little jealous that they weren’t included.

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