In his final postgame press conference Sunday, Derek Jeter said he didn’t know what he would do now that he was retired, which, we found out today, really wasn’t true. But The Captain spent his entire career keeping reporters wanting more, so his indifference in his last baseball presser was simply Derek being Derek.
Truth is, Derek Jeter knew the answer to “what’s next?” all along. And today, he announced the launch of The Players’ Tribune, a new media outlet that encourages athletes from all sports to control and share unfiltered stories with fans around the world.
The first post on the The Players’ Tribune — “The Start of Something New” — was a letter from Jeter reflecting on his emotions over the past season, something he didn’t do in the media all year long, as well as announcing the website’s intention, which included several key nuggets that should excite athletes and fans — and possibly confuse, concern and exasperate reporters who relentlessly attempted to get the “real” Jeter story for years.
“I’m in the process of building a place where athletes have the tools they need to share what they really think and feel. We want to have a way to connect directly with our fans, with no filter. I am working with other athletes, with editors and with producers to create a platform that gives us a chance to say what’s on our minds. … Over the next few months, we’ll be introducing a strong core of athlete editors and contributors who will shape the site into an online community filled with first-person stories and behind-the-scenes content. My goal is for the site to ultimately transform how athletes and newsmakers share information, bringing fans closer than ever to the games they love.”
This is the brilliance of The Players’ Tribune. A globally respected athlete who fiercely protected his privacy wants to help others do the same by providing a way to control the message. Pure genius. It’s one of those gee-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that ideas that, quite truthfully, couldn’t have been pulled off without someone with Jeter’s status at the helm.
“I realize I’ve been guarded. I learned early on in New York, the toughest media environment in sports, that just because a reporter asks you a question doesn’t mean you have to answer. I attribute much of my success in New York to my ability to understand and avoid unnecessary distractions.”
This admission comes now that his playing days are over. Jeets rarely discussed why he was guarded; he just was, and reporters learned to respect that very little would be revealed. But imagine if there was a media channel that allowed him to share what he wanted when he wanted? It would have provided fans a completely different perspective on the most visible player in the social media era, yet one who is not very well known outside the lines. As The Players’ Tribune matures, it should create an entirely new way for athletes to connect with fans on their terms instead of through the interpretation of reporters. A win-win for fans and athletes, and a potentially uncomfortable situation for reporters — “If you want my side of the story, you can read about it on The Player’s Tribune.”
Several articles from bloggers and reporters have already discussed the irony that The Players’ Tribune founding father is Derek Jeter — the most private high-profile player in baseball. Some went so far as to say Jeter should have let us in when he was playing instead of waiting until after. Really? I think they miss the point. Jeter’s experience and success in protecting his privacy while living and playing in the media capital of the world makes him the ideal candidate to show other athletes how to provide access and remain private. That’s why The Player’s Tribune will be a game-changer — the athlete controls the access and the story. Period.
If this outlet existed in Jeter’s era, he may have been more accessible. Yet the only reason The Players’ Tribune is possible is it’s coming from Derek Jeter, a player who created the modern-day blueprint for being extremely likable and respected by fans, players and the media while sharing very little. Other athletes, regardless of the sport they play, admire that Jeter is so loved and so private at the same time. While many athletes see privacy violation as a price to be paid for fame and fortune, Derek Jeter is saying it doesn’t have to be if you control the story. Now he is providing an outlet for others to do the same.
“I do think fans deserve more than ‘no comments’ or ‘I don’t knows.’ Those simple answers have always stemmed from a genuine concern that any statement, any opinion or detail, might be distorted. I have a unique perspective. Many of you saw me after that final home game, when the enormity of the moment hit me. I’m not a robot. Neither are the other athletes who at times might seem unapproachable. We all have emotions. We just need to be sure our thoughts will come across the way we intend.”
Since sports media is a competition — for breaking news and “getting the impossible get” — comments rarely come across the way they were intended when filtered by reporter interpretation. Off-field stories are taken out of context often and quickly disseminated with varied opinions via social media. Gone are the days when journalists travelled in the same trains as baseball players and protected their privacy and legacy by only reporting what happened at the ballpark. Today’s media searches for stories to fill 24-hour-a-day space — on air, in print and digitally — which has led to more athletes concerned about creating undesirable public personas based on out-of-context comments. And reporters wonder why Jeter constructed a fortress of privacy?
Derek Jeter intends to show other athletes how it’s done with his new media website, a publishing company and an upcoming photo book that will bring fans into his private life for the very first time.
In a September 22 New York Magazine article (“Derek Jeter Opens the Door”), there were clues that something new and different was coming from The Captain. Author of the article, Chris Smith, shared where Jeter’s career was headed, and it’s definitely away from the ballpark:
“He has no interest in the traditional jock afterlife: coaching or commentating or getting fat. Instead, he’s launched a publishing imprint at Simon & Schuster. A children’s book comes out September 23, followed in October by Jeter Unfiltered, a collection of evocative, documentary-style off-field photographs by Christopher Anderson—and a significant departure for the privacy-conscious icon.
Jeter Publishing, however, is only the first step. In a media landscape where stars are increasingly taking ownership of the means of production — Oprah Winfrey rose from talk-show host to media conglomerate, Dr. Dre went from producer to music mogul, and Beyoncé runs a management company — one option for Jeter is an ambitious media play. After two decades of being content, he’s intrigued by the possibility of becoming a multi-platform content provider. His business pursuits will likely be varied, but they will all be characteristically Jeter: He will be the one in charge.”
And in charge he is. Jeter Publishing’s first book is The Contract, penned by Derek Jeter, where he shares the deal — the contract — he had with his parents: keep up the grades or no baseball. Jeter Publishing’s Jeter Children’s collection will focus on books that “teach fundamental life lessons inspired by the core values of Derek Jeter and his Turn 2 Foundation.” The next book is in the pipeline already and will be available on February 17, 2015: Derek Jeter’s Ultimate Baseball Guide: Facts, Stats and Cool Trivia for Each of the 30 MLB Teams.
Jeter Unfiltered, a 256-page photo book available at the end of October, is described on Simon & Schuster’s website as an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look into the private side of Jeter’s final season, where Jeter “looks back with candor and gratitude on his baseball career. The result is an intimate portrait bursting with personality, professionalism, and pride. Jeter Unfiltered is Jeter as you have never seen him before: unguarded, unapologetic … unfiltered.”
So much for having no idea what he’s going to do after retiring. With Jeter Unfiltered, Jeter Publishing and The Players’ Tribune, Derek Jeter is building a media empire where he controls the message.
It will be interesting to see what Derek Jeter, Inc., looks like a few years down the road. If his ideas are embraced, they will transform the way athletes promote their brands and share their lives. In the end, it may be the crowning achievement in Jeter’s career — both on and off the field.