At 6 feet, 11 inches, the Sacramento Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins towers over most people, including Sacramento Bee columnist Andy Furillo.
Now add to that picture this: Cousins angrily jabbing a finger into Furillo’s face, shouting in a profane and threatening manner, because of a column The Bee published last weekend. Cousins then refused to talk to any reporters in the post-game interview while Furillo was in the room. That’s a tactic he’s employed before when he’s angry about coverage, and it is behavior aimed at controlling and censoring the media.
Furillo’s column was about an incident at the Avenue club in New York and a subsequent lawsuit that alleges teammate Matt Barnes choked a woman and Cousins “sucker punched” her boyfriend. The couple filed the civil lawsuit in federal court, but neither player has been arrested or charged. At the end of the column Furillo briefly referenced a well-publicized incident with Cousins and his younger brother in a Tampa, Fla., bar in May, which ended with his brother, Jaleel – who also is an athlete and public figure – arrested while friends hustled out Cousins.
That reference apparently set off Cousins. Yet it’s basic journalistic context, relevant and fair in any column about Cousins and bar fights. Furillo ended the column suggesting that Cousins and Barnes find “better places to hang out.”
Monday was the first time Furillo saw Cousins after the column published. The altercation started with a glare from Cousins, and quickly escalated as the player closed in on Furillo, shouting “We’re going to have some real f---ing issues. Don’t ever mention my brother again.” He continued his profane tirade, as teammate Garrett Temple got between the two and kept his arm around Cousins’ middle, and Kings spokesman Chris Clark motioned to Cousins to stop.
Furillo held his ground. That’s no small thing given Cousins’ strength and size. It likely helped that Furillo is an experienced journalist who was shot at as he covered riots in Los Angeles and threatened by family members of criminal defendants while he covered Sacramento’s Superior Court. He’s seen worse.
But not every sports journalist has that background. And none of them need to put up with grossly unprofessional behavior to cover a basketball team.
It’s supposed to be entertainment, right? In Sacramento, it’s entertainment subsidized by all of us, given the public financial support of Golden 1 Center. And despite its private ownership, the team has a symbiotic relationship with the community as it is reliant on ticket sales and fans who are proud of their team.
There is an ongoing review into this matter and we will take the appropriate steps immediately upon its conclusion.
Statement from Sacramento Kings
Kings management released a statement Thursday saying they are looking into the matter.
“We are committed to being open and transparent, and any hint of media censorship is unacceptable,” the statement said. “There is an ongoing review into this matter, and we will take the appropriate steps immediately upon its conclusion.”
Josh Robbins, president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, called the incident “troubling” but an “extreme outlier” in how athletes treat journalists.
In a statement, Robbins said, “Professional reporters or columnists and the people they cover will not always agree on what is written or broadcast. … But each side should treat the other with mutual respect and professionalism. An overwhelming number of NBA players – maybe 99.9 percent – treat the professional news media admirably.”
For the journalists who cover the Kings, Cousins’ tirade and threat to refuse the required NBA post-game interview is an all-too-familiar pattern of abusive behavior.
“He is a bully, to be sure,” said Bee columnist Ailene Voisin, who has extensive experience covering the NBA, as well as the NFL and MLB. “He bullies everybody. He bullies his coaches, his teammates, team employees, reporters.
“But this is the first time I have heard of him intimidating anyone physically,” she said. “He normally glares, stares and refuses to speak to the cluster of reporters if someone is present that he is annoyed with at that particular time. Or, he will simply refuse to answer a question from an offending reporter.”
Most recently Cousins, whose base salary is almost $17 million this season, has been angry with Leo Beas, the managing editor of Cowbell Kingdom, part of ESPN’s TrueHoop blog network. Journalists say Clark wasn’t there when Cousins excoriated Beas. But he was when Beas attended the post-game interview and Cousins refused to answer any questions from anyone until Beas left. Clark asked Beas to leave so others could do their jobs, Voisin confirmed.
An overwhelming number of NBA players – maybe 99.9 percent – treat the professional news media admirably.
Josh Robbins, president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association
Yet no credentialed journalist should be excluded from post-game interviews because a player is unhappy with coverage. Kings management shouldn’t allow it, much less enable it. The entire reporting pool should walk out when that happens. Any other response and it becomes an insidious intimidation of those covering the team.
NBA players are represented by a labor union. Their contract with the NBA includes media access rules. Locker rooms must be open to the media within 15 minutes after the game ends. And players must each be available to the media within 30 minutes of the locker room opening. They must be available for at least five to 10 minutes.
The policy doesn’t specifically say they have to talk, though it seems the point of the clause and the professional thing to do.
Marshawn Lynch, running back for the Seattle Seahawks, was well known for not wanting to talk to the media, famously flouting interview decorum in November 2014 when he answered “Yea” to more than 40 questions asked. But he wasn’t singling out specific reporters and demanding they leave; it was funny.
A week ago I was out walking with my husband, who was wearing his Minnesota Vikings sweatshirt and cap. We passed another couple, he in his rival Green Bay Packers sweatshirt and cap. We had some fun with that.
Sports franchises can contribute to the quality of life in a city. The tribal identity – sometimes lifelong – attached to teams fosters civic pride and community fun.
It doesn’t take much to ruin that. A losing team is one thing. A franchise player who regularly bullies the journalists covering him is another. And management that enables such behavior is not fitting of an operation working to be at the center of entertainment in this city.