This past Saturday night, driving back to our Oregon hotel, I was listening to a college football talk show. One of the first things I heard was a sound bite of Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott. After experiencing the first loss of the season and, thus ending any hope the Buckeyes had of repeating as national champions, the talented running back got “a microphone stuck in his face,” as head coach Urban Meyer explained it. Imagine the feelings, at that moment, of the college junior (albeit someone who had no intentions of becoming a senior). Some may say Elliott was upset for an additional reason – that, due to his less than stellar performance, his chances to win the Heisman Trophy went down the same drain the national championship hopes did. Whatever the factor was, he proceeded to do what (nearly) every media member lives for – make inflammatory comments – in this case, criticize his own program, especially the play calling during the game his team just lost.
“I deserve more than 11 carries. I really do. I can’t speak for the play caller. I don’t know what was going on . . . We weren’t put in the right situation to win this game,” were among the quotes Elliott made at a post game press conference. He also made mention of the fact he was lobbying Meyer to run the ball more. Media members were drooling when he also stated he will not be returning to Columbus for his senior season. Players like that almost write the story for the media member.
People who have never been a member of a football team – a group that physically punishes their bodies, depends on each other more than any other sport (because it’s the ultimate team game – see my 8/31/15 blog for a more thorough explanation) and either wins or loses as a unit (as opposed to individual sports teams – tennis, golf, swimming, track & field – in which one competitor can achieve victory while the team loses), cannot fully realize the emptiness that comes with defeat. Not that many people get to work at their craft and “put it on the line” each week. If only sportswriters had to file a story each week and have it scored, the result being a win or a loss for that individual. Consider how the person who “lost” week after week would feel when it was written and discussed on television (and the Internet) that the next week’s story was critical – that the writer was on the “hot seat” and that another L could lead to a job demotion or a move to a paper with a smaller circulation or, perhaps, even end a career.
What I heard on that talk show was the co-host applaud a colleague for one of his follow ups, giving kudos for a “probing” question. To her it was a guy doing a sensational job, while I looked at it as “piling on.” The guy had lost four games during his three-year career (while winning 36). His team had just had a 24-game winning streak snapped. And they weren’t going to get the chance to defend their title. Throw in the Heisman loss if you know Elliott well enough to believe that was his motivating element.
Predictably, Elliott apologized later, as athletes who speak out of emotion in frustrating times (right after a devastating loss) usually do. He said he was sorry for OUR (caps his) loss, didn’t mean to point fingers, was caught up in his emotions, loves his team, gave nothing but blood, sweat and tears, always put the team before himself and, to illustrate his love for Buckeye Nation, ended with “GO BUCKS!” He did, however, stand by his statement regarding not coming back for his senior year. The remarks he made were, as opposed to the post game rant, well thought out and explained, although admitting it was the wrong time and place to make that “announcement.” He realized a month ago he was going to enter the NFL draft. Anyone who has done any research on the longevity of an NFL running back, i.e. earning years, would completely understand such a decision.
Would sportswriters’ attitudes be any different if others had the capability to turn the tables and ask questions of their own? Queries such as, “With those in the know claiming newspapers will go the way of the dinosaur, how long do you feel your paper has before shutting down?” “With so many of your colleagues being laid off, do you think you’re also on the hot seat?” “There are rumors that there is in-fighting at your newspaper. Care to comment on that?”
Naturally, that will never happen (much to many readers dismay). Still, it would be nice if the media kept in mind:
“A little empathy goes a long way – and it never really hurt anyone.”