#31: a quick rant about stupid sports journalism

I really don’t like Gregg Easterbrook, the guy who writes the Tuesday Morning Quarterback column for ESPN.com and author of some books, apparently [he really enjoys making sure those of who read his column know about his books. The amount of self-reference borders on parody, if parody were intended to pimp one’s sales]. He’s pompous, he makes contradictory statements within the same paragraph, and his tiresome edict that undrafted / low draft pick players are superior because of their ‘desire to prove themselves’ makes me wonder if he has ever actually watched Peyton Manning play football.

His moral judgement of football’s lack of care for its players, its failure to initially acknowledge and now take on concussions, and the overt way owners hold cities ransom for public funding even though they are all billionaires making billions from these very people already, are things I do agree with. However, this guy also runs a ‘Cheerbabe of the Week’ every column that always makes sure to include a picture of the lady’s boobs in motion. Chauvinism! Football! Tits! Old Rich White Guy trifecta. His definition of football morality extends only to criticize the people in power–it’s really no different than some horny high school dweeb drawing anarchy signs all over the place while trying to look at porn on his high school computer. Gregg’s not actually making a critical analysis of football based on equality; he’s making one based on his own desire to showcase what he considers Manliness Virtues, which, apparently includes oggling underpaid, overworked, not-even-represented, women cheering on the sidelines.

He’s constantly conflating the idea of ‘traditional’ offenses with manliness, lamenting the spread offense and disparaging teams who don’t run the ball when he thinks they should. His entire view of football is that of the 1930s: players should all be Moral, Undrafted Men playing the game for the Sake of Integrity and Grit or some happy bullshit. But then he turns around and talks about how the spread offense isn’t new (which is a fact. Google Mouse Davis) as though this somehow then makes it justifiable for teams he appreciates (the Patriots) to run spread concepts. He will not shut up about Michael Crabtree, the apparent reason San Francisco has not won a Super Bowl since he was drafted. They hadn’t won a Super Bowl for a long time prior to drafting him, and, actually, they were terrible for a while, but don’t let anything like that stop you, Gregg. You keep rolling.

There’s nothing manly about running the football. Plowing ahead for six yards does not prove your penis is enormous, Gregg. Football, despite almost every talking head’s opinion, is not a manly sport. It is a sport of skill, strength, and observational ability. That combination has nothing to do with sex or gender; it has everything to do with being an Athlete, a term, mind you, that is sexless. The idea that football somehow goes beyond Athlete to Manthlete only showcases the ineptitude of football, in general: the placement of a stereotype above the placement of actual success.

[This leads to a second (sub)rant, especially close to me because I cheer for two teams who say this all the damn time: I’m very tired of hearing Michigan people talk about the need to hire a Michigan Man for a coach who will operate a Michigan Football offense / the Steelers owner firing Bruce Arians as coordinator because he called too many pass plays and Pittsburgh needed to get back to running a ‘blue collar’ offense. What the fuck does that even mean? I don’t give a shit if my coach/team ‘identifies’ with the so-called nature of the school/city it plays in. Pittsburgh isn’t even a goddamn blue collar town; it may have been when the steel factories were in full bloom, but it has remade itself into a hipster, white collar, and medical-focused city. What has happened since we fired that goddamn pass happy motherfucker? Well, he took th O.C. job for the Colts, stepped up to interim head coach when Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, led them to the playoffs, then took over the Arizona Cardinals, went 10-6 last year in the toughest division in football, and has them with a winning record again this year despite injuries to major defensive players. The Steelers, with their tough blue collar offense? Oh, 8-8, and constant bitching about how terrible Todd Haley is as an offensive coordinator. Thank God we’ve proven we’re tough motherfuckers with our ground-and-pound game because otherwise we’d have to look at how poorly we play and actually deal with it. As for Michigan, well, I’d say Brady Hoke is a disaster. He may be a nice guy or whatever, but his best season was his first, when he had RichRod’s players (and pretty much his offense because that’s what Denard Robinson knew how to run and was damn good at it, too) and since then it has been all downhill with one of the most miserable offenses to behold in the last couple of years. RichRod on the other hand went to Arizona, has put up huge offensive numbers, and has Arizona undefeated and about to play a major game against Oregon. I mean, I know he wasn’t a Michigan Man and he plays that sissy spread game that isn’t Michigan Football and heaven forbid the offense isn’t boring (also, RichRod’s offense is mostly designed to RUN THE BALL, YOU ASSHOLES). Did somebody need to yell at RichRod that he needed to fire his defensive coordinator no matter how close of friends they were and that he needed to recruit defensive players or hire someone who could successfully bring quality defensive players to Michigan? Yes, they certainly did. But this bullshit about how he wasn’t a Michigan Man and that being an outsider made him an inferior coach has led us directly to this moment in Michigan football. Guess what? People don’t want this job. You might think people do, but they don’t. The Big 10 is down, Michigan is down, and nobody wants to inherit this mess. Thank god y’all have showed everyone that you have a penis by sticking to your football ideals because who needs wins when you can flash your balls?]

Gregg’s favorite talking point has to do with where people are picked in the draft. He constantly harps on players drafted high who don’t ‘prove’ enough. He loves to cherry pick late draft picks [Tom Brady!] while ignoring the fact that most late draft picks don’t make it. I’m not trying to trash late draft picks; I think it’s great when a player proves people wrong, but it’s ridiculous to act like this is standard operating procedure for the NFL, as though every sixth-round QB is superior to any first-round one because a first round pick who fails is a bust and a sixth rounder is merely doing what sixth rounders are supposed to do: fail. Peyton Manning went number one overall; I don’t believe he lacks a work ethic or that if he had been drafted in the 4th round that he would somehow miraculously be even better because he’d have more ‘drive’ to prove himself. It’s such a straw man argument, one that can constantly be ‘verified’ by highlighting whoever fits your argument, regardless of overall numbers. What Gregg is really saying, once again, is that he thinks players should revere the NFL with unfailing celebration, that the ‘real’ NFL players are the ones who Man Up and Make It All Mean Something–and somehow high draft picks can’t do this because they are spoiled by being high draft picks. It’s an undeniably American view/stereotype: the praise of those who ‘raised themselves up by their bootstraps,’ showing us real ‘Murrican fans what a real ‘Murrican hero looks like.

Here’s Gregg in action with his most recent column, talking about how making major trades at the draft don’t work out for the people who trade picks for moving up to get a player; please, pay close attention to how he contradicts himself in the middle of the paragraph in the span of only a couple of sentences:

In 2012, Washington gave up three first-rounders, plus a second-round selection, for Griffin, who briefly injected excitement but mostly has been a letdown, with a 13-18 record as a starter. The team’s roster is depleted as a result of the deal — add three first-rounders and a second-round selection to the Washington depth chart, and the Persons might not be in the cellar. The Rams, who received the king’s ransom for RG3, hardly are tearing up the league. Since the Griffin mega-trade, Washington is 14-23 and St. Louis is 15-19-1.

If you’re following along at home, if Washington hadn’t traded those picks for RGIII, then maybe they wouldn’t currently be terrible; but those picks that the Rams got that Washington would have used have netted them a losing record. So, why the fuck would Washington not be in last place with those picks when the Rams are? There is no supporting evidence to say Washington is better at drafting players [because there isn’t any. They’re terrible. Dan Snyder is the worst.], nor is there any way to say draft picks equal all the wins. Gregg loves to point out the Patriots as the team who owns this mentality, as they hoard picks every damn draft, but they’ve won exactly as many Super Bowls as Washington in the past 10 years: zero. You know what makes teams good: appropriate personnel combined with quality coaching combined with quality schematics. You know what else? Luck. RGIII was dynamic his rookie season–it’s injuries that have destroyed him and his ability to win games, not fucking draft picks.

The entire premise of Gregg’s football argument boils down to this: we should value and praise those who most resemble the archaic ideals of 1950s manhood. And, yes, I realise this is not something Gregg alone supports; football constantly folds into itself over and over trying to prove how much of a Man sport it is. I expect that from former players, etc. But the idea that Easterbrook is a sportswriter paid to spew asinine, unsubstantiated opinions using cherry-picked data confuses me. Sports journalism can / should be nuanced, developed, and thought-out. I don’t give a damn if his column is an ‘opinion’ piece about football; the fact that he gives credence to the very base idea of Football is for Men renders his column inexcusable for ESPN to run, and having an opinion doesn’t mean you’re allowed to just fit outside data however you want to make your opinion look better.

Oh, and here’s another great one from this week:
Lots of people are climbing onto the anti-R*dsk*ns bandwagon now, and welcome aboard. I’ve been there for 15 years. I wrote a piece for NFL.com in 2004 protesting the R*dsk*ns name, before this became a fashionable cause.

Good for you, Gregg! You’re a fucking superstar! All the way back in 2004! I mean, my junior year in high school was 1997-98 and my history teacher asked the class if
Washington should be forced to change its name, and my guess is my middle-of-nowhere high school wasn’t exactly on the cutting edge of political movements.
Maybe instead of acting like you’re some kind of Movement Crusader, you could write about how important it is that this is gaining traction; maybe instead of patting yourself on the back, you could ask why an obvious racist epithet is taking so long to change; maybe instead of declaring yourself so fucking awesome, you could talk about the cultural impact of using that name and why our culture has, for so long, embraced / allowed its use so openly. No? Well, thank god you’re here, Gregg.

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