One of the oft-repeated sayings in journalism is "Don't become the story." At first glance, well-respected Fox NFL reporter Jay Glazer's involvement with training Brian Banks (the once-hot USC linebacker prospect who served five years after being convicted of rape, but had that conviction dismissed last year after his accuser admitted fabricating the charges: see correction at end) would seem to violate that doctrine. Glazer covers the NFL and Banks just signed with the Atlanta Falcons; in fact, Glazer broke that news, which might cause some to look quizzically at his involvement in this story and perhaps even accuse him of an ethical conflict. However, a deeper look at the specific circumstances involved here suggests Glazer might not be in the wrong.
To start with, Banks' story is a highly-unique one. In many ways, he was already working at a substantial disadvantage against the NFL system; he didn't play in college thanks to his conviction, and before last year (when he landed a UFL spot after several NFL tryouts), he hadn't played at a high level in some time. At 27, Banks is also much, much older than your typical NFL prospect. Glazer donating his time to provide Banks with MMA training to get back in game shape thus seems more like an attempt to rectify an injustice and level the playing field for him than a standard attempt to promote one NFL prospect over another. This also seems better with Glazer donating his time than it would if Banks paid him; that could lead to a debate about if he was being paid for MMA training or for promotion. By doing this pro bono, Glazer not only looks generous, but he reduces the appearance of a conflict of interest.
While it's certainly unusual to see a NFL insider like Glazer so publicly advocate for a particular player, that isn't necessarily wrong either. As mentioned above, Banks' case is far from a standard one. Glazer's role with Fox is also noteworthy; his primary role is breaking news. He does that very well, and he's deservedly earned plaudits for it, but that doesn't mean that NFL front offices are going to start signing players because he publicly boosts them. It's debatable whether front offices pay attention to anyone in the media, from commentators to studio personalities to columnists to draft analysts, but it might be more problematic from a perception standpoint if a draft analyst or a studio personality had a stake in promoting a particular player. Glazer's primary role isn't telling teams who to sign, but reporting that they've done it; thus, there would seem to be less reason to worry about him promoting Banks' cause. Competing NFL insiders could argue that Glazer's history with Banks gave him an unfair advantage in breaking this news, but the insider role has a lot to do with developing relationships with players, and every insider has some of those.
The disclosure aspect here is also important. Glazer's made no secret of his advocacy for Banks over the years, so that allows viewers and readers to know where he's coming from on a story like this. They can then judge for themselves if they view his actions here as problematic. From this standpoint, his approach doesn't seem all that bad, though.The unique circumstances surrounding Banks' case and Glazer's particular role both matter, and when you factor in that Glazer has made this all quite public, there doesn't seem to be a substantial conflict of interest here. Some traditional journalistic types may still take offense with Glazer becoming the story here, but hey, that isn't as hard and fast of a rule as some might think (ask George Plimpton!). Banks' journey from prison to the NFL is a great story, and that's not diminished by Glazer's involvement. That doesn't mean NFL insiders should start lobbying for favored players consistently, but in this case, it's hard to really take significant issue with Glazer's actions.
*Correction: This piece initially had Banks' release from jail happening last year. His release was earlier: his conviction was dismissed last year.
@AndrewBucholtz might want to double check that "released from prison last year" part...
@reackshun: Oh, you're right, my mistake; his conviction was overturned last year, but his release was before that. I've fixed it. Thanks!