I was flipping channels the other day, wondering whether I should watch Parental Control on MTV or Terminator 2 (which I’m convinced has been airing constantly on TV over the past couple of weeks). Luckily for me, I stumbled onto ESPN Classic, which was showing a repeat of the 2003 NBA All-Star Game. While silently cursing myself for actually being sucked into watching a five-year old exhibition contest, I was secretly hooked. It was fascinating to see the announcers talk about the game as it was in 2003. One particular aspect struck my fancy — apparently Jason Kidd had just made statements that he would be open to signing with the San Antonio Spurs that offseason.
Given the recent hubbub over Kidd’s request of a trade out of New Jersey that was subsequently granted, it fascinated me that Kidd had made public comments about leaving New Jersey as far back as 2003. As everyone knows, Kidd eventually signed with the Nets and spurned the Spurs, but during that All-Star Game, the announcers talked ad nauseam about the implications of Kidd’s midseason statement. That got me thinking — should people care about anything an athlete says?
A few weeks ago, when Kidd announced that he was not happy and wanted to leave New Jersey, people cried out that it was the beginning of the end of his tenure with the Nets. Analysts said that there was no way he could go back to New Jersey after making comments like that. But as I have shown, he made negative comments about the Nets five years ago, without any trouble.
The Jason Kidd saga is just part of one of the biggest problems I have with the media these days — the hypocrisy of athlete comments. On one hand, the media freaks out every time someone says anything remotely controversial. On the other hand, though, members of the media want athletes to provide juicy statements because it sells newspapers.
Just look at the current verbal jousting between the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. Last year, Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins said that he thought the Phillies would win the NL East. Anybody with a pen, the Internet or a carrier pigeon chipped in with his or her two cents about Rollins’s remarks. People claimed he was an idiot, selfish, should be knocked out by Rocky Balboa and be hit over the head with the Liberty Bell. As it turned out (sadly for me and other Mets fans), Philadelphia did win the NL East and Rollins won the National League MVP. Therefore, Rollins’ comments shouldn’t have been criticized. This offseason, normally taciturn New York outfielder Carlos Beltran made similar comments that the Mets were the team to beat in the NL East. The Phillies made their own comments in return. Somehow, this has turned into a huge story and the media has obtained reaction from everyone from Mets owner Fred Wilpon to Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado to Phillies pitcher Brett Myers to White Stripes drummer Meg White (well, maybe not).
Why is this a big story? Why should the media criticize a player for believing his team is good enough to win his division? Shouldn’t every player think that his team is good enough to win? Isn’t confidence a major part of any game? How is this out of the ordinary?
Similarly, this past football season, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Anthony Smith guaranteed that Pittsburgh would beat New England in their regular season matchup. Subsequently, based on the ensuing media coverage, you would have thought Smith had admitted he was the inspiration for Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men. While providing the Patriots with bulletin board fodder is admittedly relatively perilous, I cannot fault Smith for having confidence in his team. If the Steelers had won, he would have been put on the pantheon with Joe Namath and Mark Messier. Furthermore, some suggested that Smith should not have made that guarantee given that he is not a star player. If only big stars’ opinions count, why did the media talk to Smith in the first place?
That brings me to the second point about the hypocritical nature of the media — the desire for juicy quotes. Just take a look at the pages of any newspaper or other news service and I guarantee that you will find tons of generic, cliché-ridden statements that really only serve as breaks between paragraphs and tools to increase word counts.
While clichés are not the end of the world, it is always refreshing when you find an athlete or coach who is willing to say something original instead of the frequent “we just have to play our game,” and “we have to take it one game at a time.” When an athlete or coach goes out of his or her way to analyze a game, share his or her true feelings or even just use humor, it makes any article much stronger. It also endears the media to that particular athlete.
As I have said, though, the same media that embraces the loquacious athlete also criticizes him or her for potentially controversial remarks. But the media cannot have it both ways. Even though New Jersey without Jason Kidd is like The Real World/Road Rules Challenge without CT, I admire Kidd’s candor. Same with Rollins, Beltran, Smith and every other athlete or coach who tells the truth. Everybody else says what they feel all the time. Why can’t they? That way, I can enjoy the 2003 NBA All-Star game in peace and wonder how Antoine Walker made the team.