josh gordon

There appears to be a mounting disconnect between the media responsible for covering professional sports and the players involved in them; particularly in the NFL, where the top stories tend to be more TMZ than ESPN. Somehow the sensationalism of player’s personal lives and personalities has taken precedent over their actual involvement in the sport. When did athletes cease being humans with a right to privacy? In a time where you can turn your television to ESPN at any given moment for real time sports updates; where do we draw the line? When does genuine interest turn into an unhealthy obsession with irrational expectations?

With many transgressions under his belt, most recently failing a league mandated alcohol test, Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon, directed an open letter “to Charles Barkley & Co.”, in which he names Barkley and fellow analysts Stephen A. Smith, Cris Carter and other interested parties. These parties have spent many a segment discussing Gordon and his decisions. You can read the entire letter here. To avoid a lengthy synopsis, Gordon basically states “you don’t know me” in response to the plethora of opinions and judgments regarding his alcohol and drug use. Gordon goes on to explain the environment and circumstances that contributed to who he is and the choices he makes before taking responsibility for “messing up”.

Now, this is by no means an endorsement for Josh Gordon and his choices or a claim that those choices haven’t affected his job as a professional athlete. This is a statement on the manner in which media personalities deem appropriate to report and analyze the subject. Somewhere along the way, the public developed a false sense of entitlement to being involved in athlete’s lives. Consequentially, what the public wants, the media is expected to provide. In Gordon’s letter, he addresses Barkley’s concern with his impending death via drug use despite  the fact that they have never exchanged words as well as Smith’s statement that he is “done with” him when they have “never had a meaningful conversation…beyond a quick First Take spot”.

As this is happening, Seattle Seahawks running back  Marshawn Lynch is gearing up to appear in his second consecutive Super Bowl. At a time when he should be focused on preparation and conditioning for the biggest game of the season, Lynch’s interaction (or lack thereof) with the media has taken the spotlight. Between large fines for his choice of hat to ones for refusing to talk to reporters, it seems that the media would rather focus on what happens at press conferences than on the field. To avoid fines, Lynch has showed up and spoken with the media at every press conference since then. Granted, he initially made it clear he was only there so he wouldn’t get fined, and today basically chastised the reports; but he was there and he was cordial. The backlash from social media and sports analysts came immediately. Apparently the only way for Lynch to “win” in this scenario is to smile, wave and say what the media (and fans) want to hear; essentially cease having a unique personality and living his life on his terms.

As any sports fan, I understand that we “pay the athlete’s salaries.” Fine.

Nobody is forcing you to financially support anything they do. They do not owe you anything. Neither the public nor sports analysts possess unlimited rights to information on or from them.  The easiest way to convey my point is to say this: athletes are simply people who are really good at something. Let’s say you got employee of the month at Taco Bell two months in a row; you are obviously really good at making tacos. Does this give your boss, the media and ultimately everybody associated with Taco Bell and its patrons the unquestionable right to take a fine tooth comb to every decision and statement that you make? Can they show up anywhere you are with cameras then fault you if you have a negative reaction?

Although these examples are far from identical and the Taco Bell thing is a reach, there is a principle matter here. While Gordon’s decisions adversely affected his ability to do his job and Lynch’s did not (and neither work at Taco Bell); both have been mangled and sat on a platform by media outlets. As the media, leave sensationalism to the tabloids. Let’s focus on stats, on performance. When athlete’s personal decisions affect those two, it’s ok to report it but leave handing out diagnoses and judgments to those whose occupation it is. As the public and sports fans, how about we let go of the asinine idea that when we purchase a jersey or game ticket, we are owed some say or even a place in these athlete’s lives.