On Private And Public Behavior

edpodolak

Over the weekend I posted an item at Awful Announcing regarding photos of Iowa Hawkeye football color commentator Ed Podolak surfacing from an Iowa State message board and being publicized via the Wiz of Odds last week. The photos showed Podolak drinking, looking down a woman’s shirt, etc., while in Tampa for the Outback Bowl and are fairly tame as far as photos of folks taken at bars go. I didn’t post one of the photos, mostly based on personal choice*, but I still thought it was a story.

Now, apparently Podolak decided to retire (or, if you believe, got urged to leave) as a commentator after Iowa AD Gary Barta expressed a rather downbeat tone about the whole matter, and it has spawned some spite towards the Wiz of Odds: Black Heart Gold Pants called editor Jay Christensen an assbag, Brian Cook called it “complete bullcrap” in the tags, and I can’t blame them for doing so. I think it’s a bit of an overreaction by Barta, but I’m not going to hold Christensen at fault for this — and if you think I’m completely, utterly wrong on this, don’t hesitate to tell me. I’m more than willing to change my mind.

As a publicly recognizable figure, both as a media figure and former pro athlete, Podolak has to know better.  I work with people who are on television. I am fortunate to call many of them friends and drinking buddies. They are recognizable faces in the community.  By no means are they shut-ins, but they know that they have to comport themselves in a certain way when they go out on the town. It’s a double standard, it’s not fair, but that is kind of implicitly agreed to when you sign a contract to be a media representative of a university, by extension (even though Podolak was hired through another company, technically.)

In Podolak’s case, this incident came after he got arrested for public intoxication previously with a .23 BAC a few years back in Iowa City. I don’t think it would have come to “resigning” had this been a first-time incident.  I hesitate to say Gary Barta has any real right to determine what Podolak can and cannot do with his off hours, but ultimately, media figures give up certain things when they sign on the dotted line — even in cases where the goalposts have moved. Iowa officials in 1997 said “charges” were necessary to trigger suspension or firing. Drunken photos aren’t that, and Barta is apparently tougher on broadcasters than he is on the players in his revenue programs, which doesn’t look particularly good either — especially when another writer at the FanHouse is noting that Podolak’s bar times were not exactly a secret. It seems selective by Barta rather than any sort of principled stance.

(*The reason I didn’t post one of the pictures is because the woman wasn’t identified and it was a little more sensitive in nature. This may be my personal brand of journalism ethics training kicking in. I have no compunction about grabbing images via Google with randoms [mostly people with athletes at charity events or signing autographs, etc., just for photos for live blogs], but this was a bit different in my mind.)

Full Of Sound And Fury

jaymariotti

So, it’s mildly amusing that AOL decided to take one of the most universally loathed sportswriters and give him a platform. I don’t know what drove the decision to hire Jay Mariotti for AOL Sports other than the desire for what I’ve personally called “The Rush Effect”*: people will click to be outraged at what he writes, but since page views are what matter, it will be a success either way, no matter how blatantly wrong he is.

In my original note about Mariotti’s debut at Awful Announcing on Sunday, I snarked about Jason Whitlock, which, in retrospect, isn’t exactly fair to Whitlock for a couple reasons:

  1. Whitlock, from what I can tell, has a fanbase.
  2. He also is right on occasion. Rare, but that’s better than Mariotti’s ratio.

Now, everyone is weighing in: Brian followed up at AA in the AM, MODI is calling for people to speak out forcefully at SOMM, and Deadspin’s Rick Chandler employed some good old fashioned snark and mockery.  After reading his introductory column, with some fashionable talk about how behind the newspaper world is (predictable) and spoiling a movie ending (yes, everyone could probably guess that the dog bites it in the end, but that’s still bad form), he goes into some victimhood:

I resigned after the Games with a calm, professional letter, a decision that came mere months after I’d signed a contract extension. I guess I hurt some feelings. The boys called me a “rat,” forgetting those 5,000 columns through the years. They accused me of using Beijing as vacation time (“Hey, kids, let’s ditch Hawaii and hang out in a Communist country.”). They let a few staff writers, who should focus on doing better work, react with rage reminiscent of Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction.” All because I handed back about a million bucks and wanted something more.

Well, I don’t know. I suppose that if you happen to take potshots in print and on TV at professional athletes and their coaches without daring to set foot in locker rooms any longer, the beat writers and columnists who do might be tired of taking shit aimed at you. When your paper uses your resignation to ramp up a subscriber drive, you might want to consider where your ego ran off the rails.

Jay, bless him, does no such thing.

I’m working for a company, AOL, that attracted 54 million unique visitors to its programming content sites in November and ranks fourth in traffic among Internet news sites. As established writers keep moving Web-ward, it will cause consternation among a few members of the sports blogosphere, some of whom think they own the Internet when, as everyone knows, Bill Kurtis owns the Internet. I’ve never bought into this “mainstream media vs. bloggers” blood war because, in my mind, we’re all writers. The best young writers provide compelling takes on sports. The losers wake up each day and attack (choose your ESPN target), an approach that can’t attract much audience beyond a few neurotic souls in sports media. Now hear this: I’m a bit too busy to hate bloggers or, really, anyone but terrorists and certain Illinois politicians. I just think they should be writing about Steve Smith, not Stephen A. Smith.

Well, we would, Jay, and happily, but the problem is that you, Stephen A. Smith, and many others have gone past the point of no return — you, through your writing, TV appearances, etc., in which you spout off, define the prism of sports for so many people and propagate coverage that makes the writers, reporters, and pundits as news-worthy as the athletes.

The angles taken by big-box columnists in an out-dated 80s narrative style and the focus of ESPN in paying more attention to athlete misdeeds (with a racial double standard to boot) is only part of what makes sports media an unwelcome part of the news when it comes to sports. A monopoly by one network is part of it, but when Ed Werder can take a completely anonymous sourced report and foment two weeks of Terrell Owens nuttiness, ESPN can ignore the civil suit against Brian Giles of abuse filed by an ex (along with the video), and when all sports websites run wire stories about athletes getting fucking parking tickets, of all things, sports media is as much a part of writing about sport as the competitions themselves.

Mariotti’s wishful thinking is just that — and a refusal to accept responsibility for the things he’s written before. The irony of all of it? His first full column is about Charles Barkley and his DUI, calling him “An American Idiot.”

You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t bother reading.

(*Named after Rush Limbaugh, naturally. I never understood why he had such a large audience as a kid. There are reliable conservatives, but I sense there are plenty of liberals listening just to hear the outrageous bullshit he’ll spout next.)

Leaving The Sinking Ship In Style

There are few things as satisfying as watching a fucktard like David Frum get his ass handed to him by Rachel Maddow when he accuses her show of fomenting hate similar to the crap being spewed by the audience members at recent rallies for John McCain and Sarah Palin. After you’ve watched the clip, consider the hackery necessary to make such accusations:

Frum, you’ll recall, is the one who penned the phrase “axis of evil”  for President George W. Bush a few years backfor his State of the Union address. After departing the cozy confines of 1600 Pennsylvania, he then funded smear campaigns against Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi when she visited Syria and decided to play amateur psychiatrist with former VP Al Gore when he criticized Bush’s foreign policy.

So you’ll have to pardon me if I find it laughable that this member of the GOP intelligentsia is joining the very slim ranks of those who aren’t pleased with the choice of Palin and saying it doesn’t look good for McCain because of it. This group includes columnist Kathleen Parker, NYT op-ed writer David Brooks, and author Christopher Buckley, who appears to have been booted/resigned from the column at the magazine his father founded for his trouble in saying he would vote for Barack Obama.

I’ve noticed something after reading for the past week or so, these admissions of concern — a lot of it revolves around Palin’s lack of intelligence or intellectual curiosity, perfectly valid points and worth questioning.  However, I have a question for Frum, Parker, Brooks and their ilk*: where the fuck were you the past eight years with the current occupant of the White House, if this was such a problem?

Continue reading

Right, Like Too Many People Vote In This Country

I have a low opinion of ABC’s John Stossel to begin with — I don’t have a problem with holding libertarian political ideology (reliant on the myth of free-market perfection as it is), but there is a particular problem with misrepresenting people in news reports in advocacy journalism — particularly when it encourages really asinine things such as saying that people shouldn’t vote if they aren’t informed, like his report tonight on 20/20 is doing.

Now, we have a a habit of making fun of “low-information” voters all the time, but I’ll be damned if I ever suggest that people shouldn’t vote. The problem is that too few peopel vote in this country, and too few people vote with a complete grasp of the issues — but there’s no fucking way you solve that by telling people who can’t grasp every single nuance or some civics basics to stay home on Election Day. That’s advocating personal disenfranchisement in civic matters.

(If you have a well-thought out reason to not vote on principle, that’s different.)

Even better, there are claims by the organization HeadCount that Stossel misrepresented it and the rock fans he interviewed on some basic civics questions at the concert he went to — of course, Stossel went to a rock show, full of young people eligible to vote.

Next, we suggest Stossel go to retirement homes or run through the AARP rolls to suggest people are too old and senile to vote properly, if he’s going to stay on this line of thought.  I would appeal by saying that maybe schools ought to get some funding for the basic civics classes we used to have (or at least I did, anyway), but Stossel isn’t a big fan of government intervention.*  Or, rather than put out reports like this on a Friday newsmagazine, how about the media educate the public for once on some of the basics again?  Just a refresher course, some basic breakdowns of the big issues?

Wait. This would require actual work, someone who knew economics, had a bit of insight on foreign policy, and wasn’t just taking interviews from people who have a dog in the fight as gospel. That isn’t a slam at Stossel so much as the media as a whole: political journalism right now resembles a series of press release journalism, with both sides getting their say in and the media not really caring to divine which one is the truth (or closer to it) in the interest of fairness.

Also, John, that sweater is horrific. I hope you plan to burn it or have already done so.

(*It seems like the people least likely to have unforeseen economic or natural disaster-type events affect their daily lives are always the ones saying that government isn’t necessary.)

Pushing The Narratives

The benefit of my current work schedule is the ability to watch Pardon the Interruption, which remains the only ESPN piece of programming worth investing too much time in.  SportsCenter is not as essential as it used to be; much of the analyst shows focused on individual sports are background fodder. Outside The Lines can be very hit or miss, and is subject to the typical ESPN/mainstream blinders on much of its subject matter. Anyway, back to it.

The Four-Letter’s $3 million a year poaching, Rick Reilly, subbed for Tony Kornheiser on PTI yesterday, via satellite from Denver with Michael Wilbon in-studio in D.C., and parroted what I’m fairly sure may be a common impulse among a certain segment of sportswriters regarding the current state of the baseball playoffs: he stated his preference for a Red Sox-Dodgers World Series, proclaiming the Tampa Bay Rays “bad for baseball.”

We probably need to separate that “bad for baseball” comment into two categories: bad for the sport and bad for the business of the sport. There is a vast difference: any die-hard baseball fan or one who merely follows the sport regularly would say a worst-to-first story is not only good for the sport, but also compelling and justifying smart moves by a front office.  Tampa’s entry into the playoffs already yielded more attention to manager Joe Maddon in SI, a likely Rookie of the Year award for third baseman Evan Longoria, and a front office that assembled a solid starting line-up and a roster of budding stars. That’s good for the sport; it gives some leverage behind the idea that baseball’s uncapped salary structure can still yield good things for teams who use their money wisely.

However, if you look at Reilly’s comment in the business sense, it fits. Tampa was 12th out of 14 AL teams in attendance this year, not helped by the reported shittiness of Tropicana Field, and locals are right to ignore a lousy team in a bad park for a while. That doesn’t change overnight, and it’s also part of the trend of questioning whether Florida is really interested in regular-season baseball. (We really won’t have an idea until both the Rays and Marlins’ new facilities open.)  The Dodgers and Red Sox are two of several “glamour teams”; ones that matter to people outside their home markets (the others, in my eyes, are the Cubs, Yankees, Cardinals, and Braves*.) Those are teams that have bandwagons, intense home fans, and ones who don’t drop loyalties when they move in the age of the Internet and MLB.tv.

Dodgers-Red Sox is an easier World Series to sell, and I’m sure it’s the one Fox is clamoring or as we speak.  The Rays aren’t, although everyone loves an underdog story — because there’s not enough to sell. The lore bheind L.A.-Boston is too much, two big cities, Manny Ramirez back in Betantown, the Sox seeking back-to-back titles, etc.  That’s a narrative that writes columns; that’s how Reilly kind of thinks., and it’s what Bud Selig would love to see. (Philadelphia doesn’t have the same pull as Dodgers-Sox, but it’s better to MLB than the other AL choice.)

The Tampa Bay Rays going from worst to first and capping it with a world championship is just another Marlins team beating Cleveland or the Yankees, or a Diamondbacks bloop single. It’s a blip, and won’t register outside of those of us who pay attention. Of course, you know what happens when the narrative gets openly expressed: the underdog shocks us all, and considering my loathing of both the Dodgers nad Phils, along with a need for Boston teams to cool off, I’m riding the Rays right now.

Fuck the cheap narratives, though. Let ’em do some work. Tampa is full of new stories, and that’s good for the sport.

(*I include the Braves because of their near stranglehold on the South until recently thanks to TBS and the lack of pro baseball anywhere else in that region.)

Pure Venom

The raging, unhinged bit of me has always been a fan of Matt Taibbi, despite his tendency to come off like someone trying too hard to be a neo-Hunter S. Thompson, ever since his writings in Russia for eXile and then the New York Press.

Godwin’s Law violations aside, one must admire the rhetorical audacity/complete insanity (depending on your political point of view) it takes to describe Sarah Palin’s RNC speech as “Gidget addressing the Reichstag” in his latest Rolling Stone piece.

Methinks HST would have liked that one.

Additional note: if you have lost Campbell Brown, the wife of a big-time Republican, regarding your campaign’s handling of Palin, you’ve got issues. Free Sarah Palin!

The Lane Kiffin Death Watch Gets Even More Absurd

I’m taking a bet on this since I don’t read him all that regularly, but San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami is probably a bit of a dick. Most newspaper columnists have opinionated takes that tend to verge on the obnoxious a lot of the time. They get readers this way that either love them or hate them, and that’s usually how it goes.

Sadly, WordPress is not good with video not from Google or YouTube, thus, I can’t embed the little confrontation Kawakami had with Raiders senior exec John Herrera right here, but thankfully, the Merc’s online staff has seen fit to put it at the end of his latest column.

The basic background is that someone in the Raiders’ org circulated a column critical of coach Lane Kiffin on ESPN.com, and in a press conference yesterday where everyone thought Coach Lunch Money was going to get the ax, Kawakami asked a question about feeling isolated in the organization — which prodded Herrera to interrupt Kiffin’s response, and then the little side skirmish on the video.

Kiffin isn’t absolved of all responsibility in this soap opera — he has been insolent towards owner Al Davis and cavalier about his attitude, but if you’re working in what appears to be a completely dysfunctional structure, who can blame him?  He’s going to have to answer these questions every Monday until the Cryptkeeper fires him — which will be a mistake, because Kiffin is probably the best coach the organization has hired since Jon Gruden rightfully bailed.

Bill Callahan may have taken Gruden’s leftovers to a Super Bowl, but they tanked after the infamous Tuck Rule call. (Horrendously wrong, see “JusttheFacts” in comments.) Norv Turner was, well, NORV!  Art Shell 2.0 was disastrous. Kiffin is actually coaching the offensive side of the team up and trying to build with a quarterback in JaMarcus Russell who is clearly taking the reins before being even close to ready. To be that close against the Bills on Sunday was much, much closer than any of us would have given the Raiders credit for.

What Davis is doing, by letting this drag out, is ensuring a coach who will be happy to wreak vengeance every time he faces him again. Mike Shanahan does it, Gruden does it, and Kiffin, who will likely get another NFL job somewhere down the road, will do it.

But for now, we get to watch the dysfunction as it spills out, and for now, it’s entertaining, if in a very sad way.