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The Google dictionary defines an ambassador as “a person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specified activity.” And the sentence given as an example is more than appropriate for this article: “He is a good ambassador for the industry.

Poker has many ambassadors. Many champions of the world’s largest tournaments become ambassadors for the game. Some do not.

The 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event champion, Joe McKeehen, is not a poker ambassador.

On the World Stage

The WSOP November Nine is widely considered the biggest stage in poker. Poker players work all year to get there. Not only is it a literal stage, surrounded by lights, cameras, and fans, but it is a poker final table that will forever be a part of the game’s history. In November of 2015, there was more than $7.6 million awaiting the winner of the WSOP Main Event as well.

Nine players showed up to the table. Some wore suits, some wore customized shirts and/or outfits, and some wore jeans but accessorized with hats, scarves, etc. And then there was Joe McKeehen, who wore dirty tennis shoes, baggy untied sweatpants, and a football jersey. He was not clean shaven and may or may not have combed his hair. And he seemed somewhat excited to have won in the end, though his emotion was more tempered than with most previous championship moments.

This didn’t seem like an article-worthy topic at the time, as McKeehen still had the opportunity to emerge from the moment a bit more joyous. He had the chance to use his position to become an ambassador for the game. His journey was just beginning.

Six months later, it is clear that he will not be an ambassador for poker.

Is he a solid player? Yes. McKeehen is a very good poker player. The compliments stop there.

Blaming the Media, Feeling Enslaved

In March, the WSOP announced that many tournaments for the summer of 2016 will begin at 11am instead of noon. McKeehen was incensed. He started his Twitter rant noting that he thought the new start time was a joke, then proceeded to tweet out the following:

joe mckeehen tweet


joe mckeehen tweet

joe mckeehen tweet

*please note – these tweets are screen shots and not the actual tweets as Joe set his account to private*

Numerous big names in the poker industry began to chime in.

Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu tweeted to McKeehen: “I can tell you with absolute certainty the media had nothing to do with it.” When McKeehen responded that Negreanu was being “obscene,” Negreanu responded, “What do you claim to know that I don’t? I was involved internally and am telling you media had nothing at all to do with it.”

Everyone from GPL CEO Alex Dreyfus to iBUS Media (PokerNews) CCO Matthew Parvis weighed in, as well as numerous professional poker players, to tell McKeehen that his assessment was wrong. And WSOP spokesman Seth Palansky told CardPlayer, “The simple math shows, the two-hour earlier start (10am from typical 12 noon in 2015) had no issues getting players there. This information, combined with additional player feedback on long playing days, was the impetus for the weak moving 12 noon events to an 11am start time in 2016. Of course, we keep several 10am starting events on the schedule, too, as they proved plenty successful.”

McKeehen continued his Twitter rant to say that “since we’re all slaves to (the media) anyway it doesn’t really matter.” He noted that poker players “have been getting shit on because of the media ever since I started playing live poker.”

A Message From a Member of the Poker Media

Mr. McKeehen, please look up the definition of slavery and the history of it. Should you still feel that you are enslaved in any way, I’m happy to spread that word for you and let the Twitter storm rain down.

You won $7.6 million without even having to shave your face or put on a button-down shirt. You are a poker player, traveling wherever you want, whenever you want to play a game that doesn’t even require you to shower first. There is not one iota of “enslavement” in any of that.

The vast majority of the poker media treated you more fairly during the WSOP Main Event than you deserved. Considering your attitude and outward lack of respect for the entirety of the show that made you a star and awarded you $7.6 million, you were given the benefit of the doubt in every single article that was posted. Poker writers went out of their way to give you fair media coverage.

The media is open to criticism by its very nature. But to say that 90 percent of us “don’t even try” – complete with abhorrent grammar and no punctuation or capitalization in your statement – is laughable. Most of us in the poker media work 100 times harder in a day just to eke out a living than you may ever have to understand. We don’t always put out the most stellar work, but we all try.

I’d also like to address your assertion that the poker media wanted the earlier WSOP start times. My personal disclaimer is that I haven’t covered a full WSOP schedule in several years, but I did my time for several summers. From that experience and from that of my colleagues, I know that if we wanted to ask the WSOP for favors, the following requests would likely be made before earlier start times:

* Food vouchers

* Scooters (standing and walking for the better part of 16-hour days is painful)

* Free Starbucks refreshments

* Free massages

* Better pay

* More days off than one per week

* Better temperature controls in media areas and tournament rooms

* New scenery, change of venue from the Rio

* Better parking for media

Last on that list, most of the media would probably ask for less complaining from poker players about chip counts when we are covering thousands of poker players at a time. So, the last bullet point?

* Grateful poker players

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.