Karl Malone's recent huffiness, even a certain new aloofness from the Utah media, is only one instance of how sports superstars have recoiled at media scrutiny when they feel they've been ill treated. It's also symptomatic of the stresses that often run deep beneath relationships between players and the writers who cover them.

There was, for example, the long history of animosity between the press and Don Mattingly, the Yankee first baseman who retired this year. Mattingly refused for some time to talk to reporters because he thought they were pillorying the Yanks unfairly. Last fall a New York Post columnist complained that Mattingly "blew off three newspapermen and a TV reporter who were waiting for him at Yankee Stadium" after the Yankees exited early from the playoffs last fall, and called his refusal to answer post-game questions "petulant and self-pitying."Then there was the $50,000 fine, the largest ever in baseball, that the commissioner slapped on Albert Belle, the Cleveland Indians slugger, for chasing a TV crew out of the dugout when Cleveland was taking batting practice in a World Series game. And the $10,000 fines the NBA assessed Michael Jordan and Charles Bark-ley after they decided to go golfing instead of showing up at Media Availability Day at the NBA all-star game this year. Or the innumerable instances in which sports stars and coaches have contemptuously banned some reporters outright, threatened to bust up writers, thrown obscene gestures or chased photographers.

- THE SPORTSWRITER Bob Rubin once called the relationship between many (though, he carefully pointed out, not all) athletes and reporters a "bad marriage," writing in Inside Sports magazine: "Many athletes view reporters as vultures, leeches and/or gossips - vultures in the sense that they thrive on bad news; leeches in that they depend upon athletes for their living, and gossips in that they pry into the athletes' private lives. Athletes complain of being exploited, misquoted or taken out of context. Many reporters view athletes as uncooperative, rude and paranoid, unable or unwilling to understand the nature of the journalists' job and expecting the press to protect them or shill for them.

Malone's beefs as described by Richard Evans, the Deseret News' Jazz reporter, in a Feb. 2 column, are directed at Ch. 4, KISN radio 570 and Hot Rod Hundley, the Jazz's own play-by-play announcer.

Malone blew up at being dogged by a Ch. 4 reporter covering his appearance as a witness in a civil court matter last year.

Then he walked out of a post-game radio interview with Hundley after Hot Rod said both the Miami Heat's Alonzo Mourning and Malone had had a bad night at the free-throw line by "shooting like a girl." Malone apparently was rubbed the wrong way by a Jazz promotion, a half-time free-shot contest between Hundley and a group of women after some women complained that the expression had put them down. And Malone was angered with KISN's David Locke, who said Malone had acted like a seventh-grader in the Hundley interview, and with Locke's boss Chris Tunis for backing up Locke.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association of America has become concerned with what it regards as the growing inaccessibility of players generally.

- NBA CLUBS IMPOSE NO contractual obligations that their players make themselves available to the media. The NBA does require a 10-minute cooling off period before opening the locker room to the press after games, but I'm told by sportswriters that the players are often slow coming into the room, so that reporters for morning editions and TV are often put at a disadvantage. For 45 minutes before the game, locker rooms are closed to the media, presumably to allow the players to concentrate on the game. Some pro players, I'm told, hide out in the training room until 45 minutes before the game and succeed in avoiding the press altogether.

(In college sports, the locker rooms are closed entirely before games as a matter of policy, but the same cooling off period applies after games unless the coach closes the room.)

Never mind what comes out of so many post-game interviews is a sting of cliches ("came to play," "didn't execute," "take 'em one at a time"). In the TV age, when most sports stories are primarily reaction to the game and readers are hungry for analysis, these comments are eagerly snapped up.

- OVER THE YEARS Malone has been one of the most accessible of Jazz players not only in the period before the pregame moratorium but in other forums as well, and on the road he still is.

Dave Allred, the Jazz's public relations chief, says that rarely has Karl refused to talk to anyone. As for the current flaps, "My sense in knowing Karl is that he will get those things patched up" once he has made his statement.

Allred also says the NBA is "very concerned" with the deterioration of relationships between players and press but that the Salt Lake media (and the fans as well) are very good in respecting players, including their right to a private life. "I don't think I have ever known a media person who has come unglued because a request interview has not materialized."

What's to be done to reduce friction between players and press, recognizing that the "marriage" will not always run smoothly? Each has a different job to do, and the press, while it promotes the team, can't and shouldn't try to hold it above criticism.

Mutual respect and good communication are needed to keep any marriage from souring.

The trade magazine Editor and Publisher, examining the Mattingly affair, opened one of the questions that needs to be discussed, "When is a professional athlete off-limits to the press?" The sports editors E&P contacted agreed that the athletes' privacy needs to be respected, that they should not be pursued outside the park or arena because everyone deserves some private space, but when they are in public, they must deal with being a public figure.

Brad Rock, the Deseret News' award-winning sports columnist, tells me that in the four years that he was on the Jazz beat he rarely called players at home, and only when essential. Generally his contacts day in and day out were perfectly sufficient.

Rock believes that from the standpoint of the press the key to good relations is "being friendly without being too chummy."

There's room on both sides for, if not friendship, less boorish behavior, more fairness and tact.