Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Kornheiser v. Rodgers, Round One

In an entertaining and surprisingly frank interview with Homer on ESPNRadio in Milwaukee, Aaron Rodgers offered some pretty scathing criticism of ESPN journalist and ex-MNF color commentator Tony Kornheiser.  Apparently, Kornheiser was not only intolerable in front of the camera, but also behind the scenes.

"You know who was better than Tony Kornheiser? Dennis Miller was ten times better.  Dennis Miller was a great comedian, but one of the worst Monday Night Football guys ever. And he was ten times better than Tony Kornheiser. His stuff was actually funny. Tony wasn't funny at all. He did absolutely no research. We'd sit in those production meetings and he would add absolutely nothing to the conversation. I'd be like, 'What are we doing here? This is stupid.'

"You get in there with Tony and he's asking you all these dumb questions that have no application to the game you are playing or anything you are doing....He's terrible. . . . I don't think he's funny. I don't think he's insightful. I don't think knows, really, anything about sports."

Now, Rodgers isn't saying anything about Kornheiser that most of us haven't already said about him.  What is unusual is the candor that an NFL starting quarterback takes in a public tar-and-feathering of a name journalist. Rodgers went on to offer an integrity-wash of more-respected ESPN personality Ron Jaworski.

"I like him, but, when I was coming out, he did the worst segment in the history of TV about me talking about my fundamentals. It was not even close to anywhere near my fundamentals. The first time I met him, someone introduced me to him and I said, 'Yeah I know him. He's the guy who ripped me before the draft.' The rest of the night he told me how great I was. I was like, 'I know your song and dance.' And now he loves me." 

I don't recall the segment that Jaworski had done, but it seems like ARodge is holding a bit of a grudge over the draft-day coverage that most of us know is useless a day after the draft, anyway.  I'm going to offer a little bit of criticism for Rodgers, and as usual, I will take a beating for it.  People forget that I am an Aaron Rodgers fan, but praise and criticism come when you earn it, and I think he's earned a little bit of criticism here.

First of all, Kornheiser.  Kornheiser is the epitome of the angry sportswriter sitting at his desk trying to make a name for himself.  He is at his "best" (if you can all it that) when he is arguing and being belligerent, either in print or on the screen, thus why he was tabbed by ESPN to do a show like PTI.  He tries to make it tolerable by being self-depreciating, as if ripping on himself makes it okay to rip on others, too.

But excelling at getting into fights and raising your voice doesn't translate to mainstream sports journalism, and as we found, certainly doesn't translate to facilitating the showcase football game of the week in front of a national audience.  He not only simply enjoyed hearing himself talk for the sake of talking, he often tried to get into vocal competitions with Jaworksi as if he were on PTI...which is a total turnoff for football purists who just want to watch the game and get insight from the commentators.

Kornheiser is the middle-aged uncle that every family has that comes to every reunion or family function, has a couple of drinks, and starts pushing buttons until someone responds to him.  Maybe its politics.  Maybe its how this cousin is treating her sister.  But, you can tell he's in his element when someone tries to challenge him, as a sneer comes across his face waiting for the next counterpoint he can shoot down.  Loudly.

Last year, I wrote an article on how the ESPN-ization of sports journalism was changing the landscape of how we watch sports.  There were a couple of folks who missed the point, as I am completely aware that some journalists have been crooked and slanted since the days of the Black Sox.  But what ESPN and their imitators have done is try to make the journalists into "personalities" as large as the sports they cover, injecting themselves into the sports stories themselves, instead of covering or commenting on them.  ESPN took Self-Depreciating Cranky Guy and made a show around him, and then tried to cross-market him to a larger audience on the biggest stage.

So, yes...Kornheiser is a tool.  A one-trick pony that is best suited for PTI and print journalism.  And Rodgers' comments were probably right on the mark.  That stated, my father always said something when I was debating challenging the status quo in my profession:  "You could be right.  Dead right."  In other words, I could be right in what I say or in why challenge my bosses, but in the end, I could suffer for it because of how or when I choose to do it.

This is not to say that the media are the "bosses" of athletes, but they do have control over what is said about you and how the public perceives you.  Kornheiser is the type of guy to hold a grudge, and ESPN has already established itself as the All Things Favre Network.  No doubt that they may circle the wagons around Kornheiser, or at least, sit back and allow him to tee off on Rodgers any chance he gets.

That's the funny thing:  many media guys can dish it out, but can't take it.  I don't worry a bit about Rodgers deflecting criticism.  He's been Mr. Teflon, and deserves a medal for smoothly and classily handling every shot he's taken following FavreGate.  Giving credit to Jeff Blumb, his GM, his coach, and his fellow players for circling the wagons around him, Rodgers has proven to be worth all their efforts and has paid off big time.

But the interview had the air of a man who has found comfort in his status.  Yes, it was entertaining, and yes, Rodgers is an engaging guy who speaks his mind.  But I don't think you'd hear him shooting down ESPN journalists a couple of years ago.  He is definitely more comfortable with his position and we're starting to see a guy willing to let the words flow for an eager interviewer.

Favre developed this trait to severe and profound proportions by the end of his tenure with the Packers, but he always maintained a good working relationship with the press.  Wisely so, because when he began making some idiotic decisions and statements, he always had several journalists in his corner.  The Sal Palantonios and Mike Florios were few and far between in those early days of FavreGate.

You never know when something is going to happen later on...a marriage, a divorce, a solicitation of prostitution, a poorly phrased comment.  A domestic incident can be downplayed by the press or completely blown up.  Real journalists just present the facts, but "personalities" will inject themselves into the story, and both Jaworski and Kornheiser are just the kind of guys that fit that description.

Naturally, I get a kick out of hearing our fiesty quarterback send some criticism back at the folks who have piled in on him the past three years, and maybe the days of Aaron's stiff upper lip are gone.  But, as much as  I detest the "entertainment sports media", it isn't the best idea to create enemies with them.  You don't know what the future may bring, and there are many Packers who once walked on water with their fans, who then found themselves fighting a public relations battle as they fought their own legal or personal issues.

Face it:  Kornheiser was foolishly placed in the position he was by ESPN.  Mike Sherman was foolishly placed in a dual-role position by Bob Harlan.  As much as we vilify both Kornheiser and Sherman for failing in those roles, what were their superiors thinking when putting them in those roles to begin with?

And Jaworski (and Kiper, and McShay) are all going to try and evaluate 300 players, touting their strengths and weaknesses based on their play in college and at combines...which almost all of us know, usually doesn't translate perfectly to the pro game.  Jaworksi was likely asked to do a spot as to why Alex Smith was ranking higher that Rodgers at the time, and that's what Jaws came up with.

Rodgers could have easily focused on the strengths of Tirico when asked, offered a smirky "no comment" when asked about Kornheiser, and simply brought up his disagreement with Jaworski's draft-day story and how it drives him today.  Politically correct?  Absolutely, which is what most NFL players not named Ochocinco tend to do.

As I said, I'm offering a critique of how Aaron Rodgers handled the situation, which means I am going to get deluged with "hater" comments and advice on pursuing other hobbies besides writing.  I love Aaron Rodgers and think he's a natural leader and a great quarterback, and the more they lower the number of sacks he takes, the higher his ceiling gets every year. 

I just don't think there's a benefit to throwing a "personality" such personal barbs.  All you do is give them more attention they don't need, and more ammunition to fire at you later.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff CD, and maybe Rodgers was trying to deflect the attention from the Jolly/Underwood issues, taking one for the team in a tough spot...

ESPN is interested in ratings and clicks and I doubt they will harbor any ill will towards Mr. Rodgers so long as they can generate traffic and ratings.
In fact, they might have been in on it from the start and cajoled him into a few choice words they could run with....the interview took place on an ESPN station correct ?

I agree that Rodgers might want to tone it down a bit. But after being the second fiddle and having to bite his tongue for two years during the DRAMA, maybe he needs to let a few of 'em fly from time to time.

Good idea/bad idea ? Time will tell

Anonymous said...

#1. AS I understand it, and I actually heard the interview, it was NOT Jason Wilde but Steve "The Homer" True's radio spot.

#2 Who among us does NOT think Kornheiser is a complete idiot on MNF? Show of hands...

#3 When has Kornheiser said ONE relevant thing on said MNF?

Aaron Rodgers should be applauded for saying what 99.99% of us think!

Anonymous said...

Jason Wilde didnt do this interview it was Homer from 540 ESPN

C.D. Angeli said...

thanks for catching the error...fixed it.

Anonymous said...

Rodgers can say whatever he wants about Kornholer... Nobody gives him the time of day anyway! But he should have backed off the Jaws remark. It is being overplayed a bit, as what Rodgers said happened 5 yrs ago as he was coming out of Tedfords system. That being said, Jaws is not someone he wants to get on the wrong side of. The ball is is Jaws' court now. He can keep it under wraps or throw more barbs back at Rodgers... Hopefully, he takes the high road and this fades into nothing!

My guess is the Packers brass and PR have had a lengthy conversation w/ Rodgers already and he'll be back to his more cautious approach! He seemed to get drawn into a lively banter w/ those guys and let himself get a little carried away. Still, kinda liked his candor, it can be refreshing if tempered for the most part!

C.D. Angeli said...

And the more I keep up on the story, the more it seems like AR is playfully "lashing out" at some of the guys who fawned over Favre and didn't give him a chance. Back in 2005, I remember writing how AR seemed to come in with a chip on his shoulder, and maybe this is coming back a bit.

Certainly, he has every right to be irritated with the draft day speculation and all of the Favre fawners and Rodgers critics. But, you just seem more impressed when Rodgers handled it and let his play on the field do the talking. I hope this doesn't become a habit.

PackersRS said...

I loved it. And you're absolutely right, though. It would be smarter to keep it quiet. And you're right, 2 years ago he would've never said it.

But gotta praise the guy for speaking his mind. And it's good that he holds the grudge. Don't you think Brees has a HUGE chip on his shoulder for every time he was called too short? Don't you think Brady wanted to prove the world wrong for passing him for 6 rounds?

I'll take this kind of motivation any day of the week over a complacent guy like JaMarcus Russell.

It'll hurt him, a lot of people were joining his bandwagon, calling him an elite QB. I just know now that it's all going to change.

But maybe it's better. With the whole "Packers are favorites" talk, maybe this young team would get cocky again.

Coming from the soccer background, I damn well know that the "us against the world" attitude can do wonders... And who better to serve as enemy than the press?