Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Where is the Hate?: The Indescribable (Media) Story of Brett Favre

" Peace and I'm out like whut!?!"

"Sike ya mind, bitches!"

Every summer, the story is the same, and the only thing that changes is the pieces on the chess game.

An NFL star is holding out of camp. He wants more money. He wants a better contract. He wants to play for a winning team.

And the sports media, in universal agreement with tens of thousands of fans in chat rooms and comment pages, is the same: They need to shut up and play and appreciate how truly rare their opportunity is to play professional sport and earn an exorbitant salary.

In past years, it was Terrell Owens, who is unfortunately spoken of more for his off the field antics (his fictional affair with Nicolette Sheridan on MNF, the Drew Rosenberg fiasco), claiming that as the best wide receiver in the league, he should be the highest paid receiver in the league. He was labeled a “four year-old … multimillionaire monster.[1]” And this off-season, it was Chad Johnson, claiming that he wanted to be traded from the Bengals to a team with fewer off the field distractions (ok, when I saw a blonde-headed Ocho Cinco say this on ESPN, it instantly ranked among the most absurd things I’d ever witnessed). He has alternately been accused of being “selfish” and “a disruption” and that the Benglas would be “better off without him.[2]” Then last year it was #1 draft pick Jamarcus Russell, who was called “his own worst enemy[3]” after waiting until he had the perfect contract placed in front of him before signing it.

The long and short of it is that when these men behaved badly, they were met with derision and scorn for their actions by the sports media, reviled as arrogant millionaires who snubbed their noses at the values of the working class fans who ‘pay their salaries.’ I scare quote that remark because it could not be further from the truth -- corporate sponsors and television contracts pay their salaries … but scorn and derision and unequivocal vitriol was the response.

And then there was Brett Favre.

For a second consecutive season, Brett Favre retired tearfully months after he took the last snaps of the season, placing the future of his team -- The Green Bay Packers -- at risk and holding the hearts of fans hostage unnecessarily for months. And for a second consecutive year, he has changed his mind and decided that he wants to play again. This is his prerogative. And it paid off for the Packers last year as he led them on an unlikely playoff run and played better, arguably, than he had when he was five years younger. However, this season, between the length of time it took him to make a decision, the manner in which he histrionically placed himself at the center of attention (its obvious he could not live without this attention), threw his team under the bus, and placed a pallor over the season of individuals on his now former team, he is deserving of the scorn of fans and pundits alike.

Examples of that scorn?

On July 3rd, Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press Gazette[4] suggested that Favre should be allowed back by the Packers and given the opportunity to compete for a starting position. After he retired. After he was openly critical of The Packers’ management, and two weeks’ later blasted their actions (re: not letting him return) as a threat to their own legacy[5].

On July 7th, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King remarked that Favre is simply ‘doing what his body tells him to do[6].’ Because he is following his heart, all of his actions are excusable.

On August 7th’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning,” where Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg condemn any professional athlete who toes the line, they repeatedly sought justification for Favre’s behavior. And these guys are the type that would have told John Carlos and Tommie Smith to put their fists down and place them over their hearts like good Americans. They repeatedly excused Favre’s actions, and Greenberg even played George Benson’s rendition of “On Broadway” in the background, showing his excitement over Favre’s impending arrival in New York.

On August 10th ESPN.com reports that Brett Favre is ‘one of the guys’ because he runs punishment laps when he makes mistakes in practice with the Jets. Wow. Does he also put on his practice pants one leg at a time? Buckle his helmet on both sides? Next they’ll be telling us how he lets his teammates touch the hem of his jersey …

It goes on. And though there has been equal amounts praise and condemnation for Favre’s actions, that any member of the press would come to his defense, when in the past, similar actions were considered indefensible, is peculiar, and in fact, quite upsetting to me. As someone who places a premium on endeavoring to understand one’s actions before judging him, I typically find pundits who are quick to censure distasteful and largely useless.

And though I don’t go as far as calling for the sports media to increase its criticism of Favre, I do call into question why they have shown a propensity for rushing to judgment in past cases and why there is so much compassion shown for Favre when compassion was scarce in other instances. Throw out the fact that he is a first ballot hall of famer and hero to football fans across the nation … his desire to call attention to himself, throw his teammates and management under the bus, place a pallor over his successors and even the whole team in Green Bay, and start off the 08-09 year in such a negative way is condemnable whether you like the guy or not.

And an unbiased media, above all else, should be able to put aside its personal feelings and report the facts and allow us to make our own decisions.
[1] Johnathan David Morris, “In Defense of Terrell Owens.” http://www.renewamerica.us/columns/morris/051115.
[2] Joe Kay, “Chad Johnson bristles at selfish label, says he won't change to satisfy critics.” http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/2007-10-22-2921580273_x.htm.
[3] Omar Dyer, “Will Jamarcus Russell Ever Play in the NFL?” http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1897-will-jamarcus-russell-ever-play-in-the-nfl.
[4] Mike Vandermause. “Packers cant find polite way to keep Favre away.” http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/packers/2008-07-03-favre-column_N.htm.
[5] Interview. As told to Fox News on July 16th. http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/packers/2008-07-15-favre-update_N.htm.
[6] Peter King “Favre saga far from over.” http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/writers/peter_king/07/07/favre/index.html.