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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The NFL will restrict media access for a second straight season amid the coronavirus pandemic, permitting only team employees inside the locker room when players are present.

Why it matters: Sports teams already operate like media companies, churning out content, growing audiences and publishing news updates. Keeping journalists at a distance gives them even more narrative control.

  • In the past, teams and players relied on beat reporters to amplify their voices and relay their message to the masses. Now, they can speak directly to millions of fans through social media.
  • To be clear: Independent media will still have in-person access to athletes and coaches via news conferences, so it's not like they'll be unreachable this season. But the locker room is off-limits.

What they're saying: "The relationships built during locker room access and the reporting [therein] ... is the heart of NFL beat coverage," said Lindsay Jones, president of the Pro Football Writers of America.

  • "It allows for fans to have a deeper understanding of the players beyond their performances on the field," added Jones, who writes for The Athletic. "Coverage of the NFL will suffer without it."

The big picture: One of sportswriting's greatest innovations came in the 1940s, when Dick Young of the New York Daily News began gathering postgame quotes from players at their lockers, adding color to his stories.

  • Reporting has continued to evolve since then, as has the balance of power between journalist and athlete. Why give a writer a quote when you can tweet it yourself?
  • Closing locker rooms to media members makes complete sense as a precaution, and it's been labeled a temporary measure. But when access is yanked away, it tends not to be given back, at least not fully.

The last word: "The ability to report inside a locker room is nothing short of a miracle," The Ringer's Bryan Curtis wrote last year. "That's why [sportswriters are] scared ... the coronavirus will be the means by which it's taken away forever."

Go deeper: The evolution of sportswriting

Go deeper

Dec 3, 2021 - Sports

MLB players troll league by removing Twitter profile photos

Twitter: @JeffPassan

When MLB locked out the players, free agency wasn't the only thing that ground to a halt.

What's happening: Without a CBA, the league can't legally use players' likenesses in any official capacity, meaning MLB.com has been scrubbed of all stories and images of active players.

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker