Thursday, August 31, 2006

The NFL HOF and Questionable Sports Media Judgment

Many of the major sportswriters have some affinity to the New York area. They typically either grew up, attended journalism school, or worked at media-parent headquarters here (NY Times, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN/Sports Illustrated/Time Warner, etc.). Even those that never set foot in NY cannot avoid its influence because it is the media center of the world.

New York probably has the biggest sports following in the country; I think only Boston, Chicago and St. Louis rival it and only the former two can be considered media centers. Los Angeles is too laid back and doesn’t even have a football team. Miami? Sure they won two World Series and love their Dolphins, but there are more Mets and Yankees fans at Marlins’ games than Marlins’ fans. Dallas, Houston, Seattle, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Cincinnati, Cleveland are not even close. Philadelphia lives in perpetual NY sports envy.

Anyone who lives for any length of time in New York and who reads the sports pages or watches the local sports news cannot help but get caught up in the New York sports media frenzy. I know, I’ve lived here my whole life.

The Mets and Yankees battle for the back pages of the tabloids in the spring and summer; the Jets and Giants battle for the back pages in the late fall and winter. And, in late summer and early fall, all four are battling for media attention, and there is plenty of space and tape for all. This ignores the Rangers and Islanders and Knicks and Nets and MLS, and the major golf tournament that takes place here typically once per year, and tennis’s US Open, etc. that all grab media attention. And, when a New York team is also successful, they get more attention than any other item of world news. "Ahmadinejad--isn’t he the new Giants wideout and half-brother of Cincinnati’s Houshmandzadeh?"

I believe that many NFL writers have been influenced by New York's media complex, perhaps none more than the more seasoned writers who were writing when the NY Giants were winning Super Bowls in the 1980s and 1990, or in 2001 when they made their last SB run. I believe most of them have a favorable bias towards the Giants. Even if they were raised in Kansas, many could not help but get caught up in the New York media hysteria. Is that just selective perception on my part? Perhaps.

Yet it seems that anyone associated with those successful Giants teams either gets disproportionate adoration when they are good at what they do--think Bill Parcells and John Fox--or a free pass from criticism when they are not so talented (Jim Fassell). The following, from Peter King's latest edition of Monday Morning QB, is just one of many examples of fawning over former Giants one can find in the sports media:

PANTHERS (Spartanburg, S.C.): It's hard to imagine a player not wanting to play for John Fox. What more do you want from a coach than a man who puts you in the best position to win, with a competitive team, and who looks you in the face and tells you what's what? Every time I'm around his team, I appreciate the hold he has on it -- and the fact that his players know he'll do whatever it takes to win, playing whomever he has to play to get that win.

Jeez, Peter, try subtlety when courting a lover.

Now, I think Fox is a pretty good coach, too. But, this is just the latest of many examples of fawning from the media over these guys. It is rare to hear criticism of them. Even after Parcells left the Giants in shambles when he quit suddenly, Peter King, “Dr. Z”, and Len Pasquerelli write that Parcells can do no wrong.

This bias raises questions about sportswriters’ judgment when they have a Hall of Fame vote. Surely, no team was more of a threat to the Giants in their Super Bowl years than the Washington Redskins. Yes, the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in the early nineties, but other than in 1993 the Giants weren't that competitive in those years. When the Giants were competitive, the Redskins usually stood between them and the Super Bowl, like 1986 when the two teams met in the NFC Championship game, or 1987, when the Redskins succeeded the Giants as Super Bowl champs, and 1990 and 1991 when first the Giants and then the Redskins took home Lombardis. Of course, the Redskins kicked off the bitter rivalry when they won the NFC Championships after the 1982 and 1983 regular seasons.

So, it makes one pause and wonder: If these writers are biased in favor of all things Giants, can they possibly be biased against all things Redskins? Does that explain why Art Monk is still waiting for his call from Canton? Does that explain the invective that Dr. Z and King write about Monk whenever his name comes up on the Saturday before the Super Bowl? One or two more votes in any of the past six years would have given Monk his rightful place in Canton.

Isn't it outrageous that a team that played in five NFC Championship games and four Super Bowls in a ten-year span has only two Hall of Fame inductees--Head Coach Joe Gibbs and Running Back John Riggins? If Gibbs did not get in the HOF on his first ballot someone from the commissioner's office would have started an investigation. But, hmmm, if the sportswriters are biased against most things Redskins, why would they have bothered electing a Redskins player from that era? Where did Riggins begin his NFL career again? Oh yeah, the NEW YORK Jets.


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