As someone who played professional football for 23 years, Damon Allen knows all about the impact that the media has on the athlete, and he believes strongly in the journalism credo that “the truth will set you free.”
“The type of writers that I like are those that put in the time,” said Allen on Nov. 2 at a sports writing class that is part of the University of Toronto’s Continuing Studies Program. “If you can speak the truth and do so in a creative and entertaining way, then it’s a better story,” said Allen.
Allen is 46 years old, but you would never know it. He entered the classroom energetically, his braces showing through his beaming warm smile. Allen interacted immediately with the class, asking them why they aspired to be journalists, and offered the perspective of an athlete trying to understand the role of the media.
“As athletes, we don’t know the agenda of the writer,” he said. “What is his job? What does he have to do? I understand that [writers] have to do their jobs, but what I don’t understand is when you’re dealing with certain writers, is it their job to go out and find and write dirt on that person?” said Allen.
Allen expressed his issues with writers who spin things “because [athletes] are the ones who have to take the backlash of something like that. The things they write also affect so many other people, and that’s why I have a difficult time with writers like that.”
Although Allen gets frustrated with certain writers, he’s aware that it’s pointless to fight them. “You can’t fight a writer because of the power of the pencil. [The writer] affects 400,000 to 500,000 people who read the article, and I can’t on a one-on-one basis say that wasn’t true to half a million people,” said Allen. “[The writer] has the potential to do a lot of damage. In a sense, I understand their job, but for me, if you write the truth, it’s way better than anything else. The truth will set you free.”
“We’re in a culture where image is everything,” he added, stressing the importance of journalists writing honestly.
“We’re in a generation of image, so everyone wants to protect their image whatever it may be. What people perceive of you as an individual means a lot because it is also part of their brand. It’s natural for an entertainer or an athlete to protect their brand because it is part of their potential earnings and everything else.”
During the seven years that Allen played in the CFL for the B.C. Lions, he did not have a good reputation among the media.
“I had a difficult time in Vancouver because sometimes when I played the game I made it look too easy, so with that it looks like you don’t care. It’s always been a perception that I play the game like nothing bothers me and that I don’t show emotion and passion, which is absolutely not true,” said Allen.
“In our society, we like super flamboyant guys that always have something to say, but in reality, there is no depth to them.”
Allen believes that the Canadian media is just as invasive as its American counterpart, only smaller.
“It’s bigger in the States, but I think it’s still the same because people are passionate about sports like hockey. Look at the [Toronto Maple] Leafs and everything they go through. All you have to do is lose a few games in a row.”
Many athletes and entertainers say they don’t read what’s written about them, but Allen disputed that.
“Everyone reads the paper in the industry even when they play well because they want to see what is said about them in a good way. They read the bad stuff if they had a tough game. The important thing is to learn from what is written about you for your own betterment,” he said.
“I used everything [I read] as motivation. If I had a tough game and things were said, then I wanted to use that as motivation for the next game to get me even more prepared to play.”