Friday, January 14, 2011

The Jerk

Beautiful work from Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald today in calling out Rick Reilly for a crass, mean-spirited hit job on Jay Cutler.

I wish that more reporters that cover sports would stand up and condemn columnists that set their sights on an athlete and pen moralizing, sanctimonious lectures.

The content of Reilly's piece is slightly south of ridiculous; the tone is idiotic.

Of course Chicago and Chicagoans want to embrace Cutler. He's the best quarterback most of us have ever seen in a Bears uniform. But the fact that he does not cultivate adulation does not detract from how grateful we are that he's with the team.

I will confess to not having much faith in Cutler's decision making -- I am entirely prepared for the Seahawks to embarrass the Bears on Sunday -- but while everyone else may accept as an article of faith that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, such a view does not gel with Bears fans' experience over the last four decades. The Bears win in spite of their quarterbacks, not because of them.

And I will also confess to wincing each time that Cutler volunteers to wear a microphone for a game, as he did multiple times this season (something that Reilly apparently does not know and did not mention). His churlish comments about Ryan Fitzpatrick during the Bills game undoubtedly caused many fans to recoil or, at least, shake their heads in resignation.

But I also don't care. Cutler is the quarterback of my favorite football team. He's not my buddy. I root for him because he plays a vital role in the Bears success. And nothing in Reilly's attack paints him as a bad person -- there is no history of repulsive criminal behavior. As such, while I may not like his personality, I have no reason to be embarrassed by the fact that he plays a seminal role on a team I love.

Reilly's piece comes off largely as a personal attack against someone who is not media friendly and who does not appear to understand how important people like Reilly are. If that is the case, then Reilly's managed to identify the first thing about Cutler's persona that I really like: he doesn't suck up to sportswriters.

LeGere's comments about Reilly are harsh. But, in his case, the tone is entirely appropriate. Reilly intended to tell his readers about a despicable frat-boy that they should cheer against on Sunday. Instead, he managed to underscore the arrogance and sense of entitlement that pervades amongst people that have opinions about sports and are paid to express them.

I have been a longtime subscriber to Sports Illustrated and there were occasional essays penned by Reilly that demonstrated that he was more than a hack. The Cutler piece, however, was the job of a hack.

Coincidentally, on Wednesday night I went to watch Georgetown play Pitt at the Verizon Center with a Dolphins fan and a Broncos fan. While the Hoyas were being pummeled by the Panthers, we chatted about football and, eventually, spent five minutes reminiscing about Brian Griese, a common thread running through each of our football fan legacies.

Unlikable? Immature? Unapproachable? Frat-guy arrogant? 27 years old and still not meeting media expectations? Couldn't measure up to the legacy of John Elway? That doesn't sound like a new song. In a 2002 profile about Griese in ESPN's magazine, Seth Wickersham made the same observations about another highly-touted Broncos quarterback, but also went further to present an interesting, nuanced view of a player who made some bizarre missteps in public relations.

When the theme was rattling around Reilly's head, he might have considered that the yarn he was spinning wasn't original; that something about it seemed vaguely familiar. Instead, we get observations devoid of recognition, cobbled together as if this vanity is something new under sun.

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