There are times in the media when the public is sure we just make things up. And even when that is not the suspicion, there is generally a feeling that we have a tendency to exaggerate, to embellish and distort the facts in order to fit a better and juicier story.
It is one of the reasons so many in the world of sport and entertainment have taken to Twitter. They believe they can get a message out directly to the public without media interference although as some like Rio Ferdinand have discovered, that can have a flip side as well.
But let there be no mistake about what New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees meant the other day when he decided to take on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. I say take on but what I really mean is accuse.
On this one, there could be no media misinterpretation, no debating what he actually meant, no distortion of the truth – unless you believe Sports Illustrated’s Peter King just made it all up, including the Brees quotes. And whether you like or loathe Mr King’s frequent offerings on football, I think even his most ardent opponent would believe that he didn’t just invent everything he quoted Brees on.
Brees is clearly still upset about the way Goodell handled the investigation into the Saints bounty scandal and with the punishments he dished out. In case you missed it, this is the quote, with Brees talking about players’ attitudes toward Goodell: “Nobody trusts him. Nobody trusts him. I’m not talking about a DUI, or using a gun in a strip club, which are pretty clear violations.
“I think there’re too many times where the league has come to its decision in a case before calling a guy in, and the interview is just a facade.
“I think now if a guy has to come in to talk to Roger, he’ll be very hesitant because he’ll think the conclusion has already been reached.”
Jeremy Shockey didn’t speak to King but instead chose to sound off on Twitter about Goodell and the issue of concussion. While his media platform might have been a little more basic, Shockey pulled no punches as he called Goodell a liar and implied he had covered up facts on an issue that is so sensitive to players.
I will spare you the illiteracy of Tweets and put it in proper English but what Shockey said was: “NFL stands for Not For Long in the league and life. The know-it-all Roger Goodell lied to every player and told us concussions will not affect us in life. That is a lie.”
What Brees and Shockey had to say is pretty difficult to spin. As a journalist there is no need to spin it. There is no doubt in what they had to say. Brees, with no holds barred, plainly said Goodell was a man who could not be trusted by players. In fact, so keen was he to make that point, that he said it twice. Shockey flat out called him a liar and drew a line between playing in the NFL, having the facts kept from you by Goodell and your life being shortened.
It is one thing for people to have an axe to grind but when they do so, and with such venom, the victim of the verbal volley is placed in an extremely difficult position, something I would imagine was the intention certainly of Brees if not of Shockey as well.
The old adage of sticks and stones applies only to some degree but when it comes to questions over honesty, integrity, character and reputation, it starts to wear a bit thin as an argument for just ignoring what the schoolyard bullies are shouting.
Goodell now finds himself in an extremely awkward position. Where can he possibly go from here? Does he rise above it and take some form of moral high ground? Or is he forced by the severity of the criticism to draw a line in the sand and say that Brees and Shockey have crossed it?
Had criticism like this come from an NFL employee at the league’s office, it would not have gone unchecked. Players are not employed to work at NFL HQ but they work for NFL teams owned by NFL owners, who in turn own the league that employs Goodell to run it.
So does he sit idly by and let the criticism slide or does he roll up his sleeves and weigh into a fight he may regret taking on? What happens if he decides that enough is enough and demands an apology, only for Brees and Shockey to say no and then to have other players (in much larger numbers) come out in support for those two?
It is a minefield and no mistake.
I get the impression that Brees in particular is taking a calculated gamble here. You don’t go to Peter King and plant that sort of quote unless you understand the fallout that is bound to ensue. You cannot call into question the trustworthiness of someone in Goodell’s position and later claim you didn’t mean to say that he is a man who can’t be trusted. I think you pretty much give that one away when you say “nobody trusts him.” Twice.
And the way in which Brees has done it has to make Goodell wonder if a reaction from him would see him walk into a trap of his own making. He must assume that Brees said what he said because he knows he has the backing of a lot of players at the Saints and perhaps elsewhere.
If Brees had accused Goodell of being bad at his job or of being bad-mannered, or of being over-bearing in collective bargaining negotiations, that would be one thing. But what he did instead was to throw around accusations about Goodell as a man, accusations that call into question his reputation. If allowed to stand, that is the sort of thing which will only fester.
I just don’t see that Goodell has any option but to take some sort of action. Nobody ever said the commissioner’s job was just about shaking hands for a few photographs and rubber-stamping some documents that cross your desk. It is a position of immense responsibility, difficulty and endless problems with little hope of a satisfactory solution for all parties. You don’t get paid the big bucks for no good reason.
The bounty scandal was not just another problem on Goodell’s desk. It was an allegation of systematic rule-breaking which could have led to serious injury for some players and Goodell as commissioner had a duty to act. Months later we are seeing that the debris from that explosive investigation is still falling.
Goodell could decide to allow Brees to blow off steam until he blows himself out. But there is the whiff of a player revolt in the air and when Goodell has passed the baton to the next commissioner and his legacy comes to be debated and written, this chapter will likely be the one that defines him.
Arian Foster seems to have stirred the pot of curiosity and criticism after revealing that he is a vegan. The way some people have reacted would make you think the Houston Texans running back has committed some sort of unspeakable crime.
There seems to be a view that it is not possible for an NFL athlete to come up to scratch physically unless he makes use of all the traditional foods we associate with providing the fuel for heavy-duty training and muscle building.
To watch a football team at dinner is quite an experience. The creaking food tables give a tremendous insight to the standard requirements as linemen make good use of their elbows to secure their first plate of pasta/chicken/potatoes before allowing the smaller members of the squad a chance to put something on a plate. And soon they will be back for more.
The notion that someone could take a vegan diet and turn himself into a productive running back is ridiculous to some people but isn’t the world of sport famous through the years for people who can take an unconventional approach, change the way things are done, and still turn themselves into superstars.
John McEnroe developed a tennis service style from the left court where he served with his back to his opponent. Many thought it laughable until they understood the advantage it created in approach angle and how it could drive an opponent miles out of court.
As a cricketer Ian Botham used to field at slip almost standing up at a time when crouching down was the order of the day yet Botham was an excellent slip fielder.
When Cristiano Ronaldo started striking free-kicks in what appeared to be the wrong part of the ball, we thought he had lost the plot until his stinging efforts started dipping and whizzing past keepers into the net.
And in the NFL, Deion Sanders ripped up the text book way of doing things, particularly on punt and kick returns where Sanders defied the logic of getting the ball in your hands and immediately starting to move upfield. Sanders had the arrogance and brilliance to be able to field a punt and seemingly put himself in trouble by waiting, hesitating, moving sideways and back, and stutter-stepping but how often did that throw off a coverage unit before Prime Time used his sixth sense to pick the right spot and disappear into the sunset.
The fact of the matter is that in just about any sport the right way of doing things for one person is all wrong for another. And if 99 per cent of athletes do it one way, that doesn’t make the one per cent wrong, just different. Foster is doing things differently but last season he ran for more than 1,200 yards at a healthy 4.4 average and caught 53 passes for more than 600 yards. In three seasons he is already over 3,000 yards rushing and has caught 127 passes.
If it works for him, what’s the problem? Maybe one or two others with lesser numbers will follow suit. Maybe in years to come vegan diet will be considered an advantage in the NFL. Maybe Arian Foster has just become the latest trend-setter.