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Sports Photographers Debate NFL's Walking Billboard Rule

The NFL will now require photographers at its games to wear red vests displaying the corporate logos of Canon and Reebok.

Many newspapers are so upset over the rule that they are considering boycotting NFL games, said sports-media writer Teddy Greenstein of the "Chicago Tribune."

"We object to the advertising on the vests," said Brad Smith, sports photo editor for "The New York Times." "We are there as unbiased observers."

David Shribman, executive editor of "The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette," agreed, "We're not going to become walking billboards."

In a letter to commissioner of the NFL Roger Goodell, Karen Magnuson, president of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association, said that the rule forced photojournalists to compromise their independence, "The working press should not be incorporated into the marketing apparatus of the NFL and its individual teams," she said.

The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), the Pro Football Writers Association and a long list of other news organizations echoed that sentiment.

John Long, chairman of the NPPA's ethics and standards committee, said, "It totally goes against our code of ethics to force photographers to advertise as if they were some sort of NASCAR vehicle. We are independent gatherers of news, storytellers with no agendas. Our integrity comes from objectivity."

The NFL has no intentions of taking the logos off the vests, according to Michael Signora, the league's director of media relations. He contended that the vests serve a security purpose in keeping track of who is on the field. As for the logos, Signora said they were common in sports.

Signora's claim doesn't ring true with Larry Roberts, assistant management editor for photography at "The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette," however.

"I consider this to be a blatant attempt to make our professional sports photographers into another arm of the NFL media monster," Roberts told News Photographer magazine. "Besides trying to control what we photograph, where we publish and to whom we can sell images, they are now trying to turn us into a part of the spectacle."

A photographer for the hometown newspaper of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers, Roberts noted that the newspaper uses Nikon equipment. "I am sure Canon will love seeing their name behind a Nikon. ... Or, will we now be prohibited from covering NFL events if we do not use Canon cameras?"

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