I know the drill – pro football is by far the most popular sport in America today. ESPN has a huge financial incentive to cover the NFL ad nauseam. They also have a lot of program time to fill across their platforms. When all of that meets the early preseason – when there is a very little news of consequence, but there are tons of lower case “s” storylines – even the most marginally out of the ordinary news items get major run. I get that – as Mark Schlereth is fond of saying (and boy is ESPN pushing that guy). But some days, it can all be pretty hard to take, even for a sports junkie. Yesterday was one of those days.
The quick story – Jets’ rookie quarterback, Geno Smith, had a bad day of practice yesterday. You read that right – a rookie signal caller had a bad day. His coach, the generally outspoken Rex Ryan, described it as “brutal.” More than once. He also said that Smith is injured, “has to get better” and predicted that Smith would, in fact, get better. In ESPNland, that’s enough fodder for hours of coverage. On ESPN radio last evening, Schlereth and Freddie Coleman harped endlessly on Ryan’s comments, and decried his public outing of his quarterback. Schlereth was adamant that you just don’t do that – throw a player under the bus publicly – and Coleman purported to know that such motivational tactics wouldn’t work on Smith. All because, to repeat, a coach said a player had a bad day at practice (a fact that would have been obvious to every reporter covering the practice).
Later last night on ESPN radio, Jeff Rickard also spent considerable air time on Rex’s comments. He was less critical of Rex than Coleman and Schlereth, but the stakes were no less high. If you are the Jets, Rickard said, you “desperately” want Geno Smith to be your quarterback for the “next 12-15 years” (did I mention that Smith was a second round quarterback?) Call me crazy, but I am pretty confident the Jets are not desperate for Geno Smith to be their quarterback until the year 2025. And according to Rickert, today was a disaster because – wait for it – Smith had a bad day in practice, thus jeopardizing the Jets hopes and dreams for the next decade plus.
Because, as I am sure you know, no future NFL starter ever had a bad day in practice early in his rookie season. Seriously, this is the story that consumed hours of commentary and air time last night (and no doubt, will for the better part of the day today).
As I said, I know there is a nearly insatiable appetite for football news, particularly at this time of year. But is it too much to ask that ESPN talking heads demonstrate the slightest sense of perspective about the news they’re discussing? It’s also irksome that for all their complaints about athletes or coaches who never say anything of substance, sports media’s typical reaction to even quite innocuous comments makes abundantly clear why no one wants to say anything meaningful.
Update: Sure enough, on Mike and Mike this morning, lengthy discussions are under way about Ryan’s comments. Ryan Ruocco and Jemele Hill are filling in. Hill is acting as the voice of reason, noting that Ryan did nothing more than criticize honestly Smith’s performance in one day of practice. He didn’t “project” the criticism forward, she pointed out. He just said Geno had a bad day. Ruocco, on the other hand, was incensed. He’s a fragile rookie and even if you wanted to criticize his performance, couldn’t you find a different word than “brutal.”
Hill made the obvious point – if Smith couldn’t handle one practice day being described by his coach as brutal, then he certainly wouldn’t make it in the NFL.
This is going to be a silly day at ESPN.