Mike On Sports: Curious Standards And The NFL

I have often wondered about the influence of the media on decision making in Congress, but I have no doubts about how much influence is wielded by the fourth estate on professional sports. Otherwise qualified general managers and coaches regularly make poor decisions in response to, or in the hopes of avoiding, media attention. In baseball, the trading deadline has become such a media frenzy that teams and their fans now see a lack of action by competitive teams as a failure. In football, the media hype surrounding the so-called major colleges and the draft has limited the abilities of some teams to acquire talent in an age when the real talent pool has never been larger.

The media puts enormous pressure on team decision makers by stirring up the mob. Sports editors, beat writers, and the prancing fools of sports television use this pressure to try and be the team decision makers. Why buy a team or work your way into team management, when you can write columns and “break” stories, using “anonymous sources” of course, that steer teams into the directions you desire? Fans like to play this game on bar stools and in living rooms; they have for years. But I would argue that fans have a right to this playacting; the media does not. The sports media in 21st Century America has an awful habit of anointing players, professional teams, and colleges; those anointed live and play by different standards than their peers.

Two quarterbacks in the NFL today epitomize this concept. Brett Favre, while undoubtedly one of the all-time greats, was anointed by the sports media after he quarterbacked the Packers back to greatness. Jason Campbell, the former Redskin and current Raider quarterback, has not received such benediction from the sports media elite. The differences between the two, in terms of media coverage, fan treatment, and league perception are evident. To be clear, these two players have very different histories, but the NFL is certainly a “what have you done for me lately” league.

Brett Favre will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible. He is certainly one of the 10 greatest quarterbacks in league history, and there are good arguments for the top five, top three, and greatest period that can be and are made. These are, apparently, the only facts in evidence that sports writers use when they report on his current activities. While it may be fair to give a good man latitude for certain transgressions, and both time and the benefit of doubt when explaining himself, the sports media establishment allows only a small window of inquiry into this player because of the respect he is supposedly owed.

There is the earning of respect, then there is the abuse of that respect that is given. Away from competition, Brett Favre and his media apologists have abused that love and respect given, both willingly and grudgingly, by fans, foes, and friends alike. He has trampled on the team concept that he was once such a stalwart champion of by holding himself above and beyond the labors and sacrifices that every other member of his team are called to bear. On the subject of standards, think of the criticism that players such as Shawn Rogers, Terrel Owens, and Albert Haynesworth are subject to when they miss camp and practises. None of them is called to such a challenging and all-encompassing position as quarterback, yet they are all heavily criticized for their absences, while Favre is waited on with bated breath.

Brett Favre, and those in the media who have more than a simple crush on him, have sunk to a new level this season. For the Favre Gang, it is the head coach of the Vikings who is responsible for the problems of the world. Brad Childress ran afoul of Favre last year when the coach had the audacity to want some control over his offense. With this year’s struggles, it was predictable to see anonymous players “criticize” Childress once the season turned against the Vikings. That Favre has been an abysmal quarterback is, apparently, not the issue. He has thrown 16 interceptions against 10 touchdowns while completing 62% of his passes. The mistakes Favre is making this season are typical Favre blunders; fans have seen them throughout his entire career. In other words, Brad Childress is not likely the source of these problems. Out of 34 passers who qualify, Favre is the 31st “best” in the league. In the case of Brett Favre, however, it is the coaches and players surrounding him that get the blame for his poor performance.

Then we have Jason Campbell, who presents an interesting twist on both Favre and how we are meant to view quarterbacks. The sports media elite decided last winter that the Redskins needed a new quarterback. Campbell, they said, had proven he wasn’t the answer. Many pre-draft experts had Jimmy Clausen (the quarterback of the anointed though no longer relevant Notre Dame) going to the ‘Skins early. New team president Mike Shanahan would definitely want a new man in the huddle, they said. No one in the media questioned this analysis. But why, I wonder, did the powers that be make that decision?

The Redskins were a disaster last season; Campbell started the year on his third offensive coordinator in three years. That man was fired, leaving the head coach to call the plays. The head coach was undermined by the owner, who brought in yet another man to coordinate the offense. The team’s offensive line was among the league’s worst, their receivers were ineffective, and their running game was indifferent. It would be difficult to find a football person who considered Jim Zorne and the rest of that Redskins staff better than Childress and the Vikes, offensive minds. You won’t find a sober person with a knowledge of the game who would claim the offensive line and skill players of the Redskins from last year are anywhere near the class of this year’s Vikings.

So it stands to reason that Jason Campbell was dreadful last year, and that Brett Favre’s statistics this season (with a better line, skill players, and coaching) are far better than Campbell’s from a year ago. Reason, however, has nothing to do with this process. Jason Campbell was the Washington Redskin’s best offensive player one year ago. His statistics from last year; his performance from last year (the one that got him run out of town), easily eclipses the sorry mess of a season the anointed gunslinger from Mississippi has put together.

In 2009, Jason Campbell threw for 3,618 yards with 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. His passer rating was a respectable 86.4%, and he completed a solid 64.5% of his throws. It is worth restating the adversity he faced to earn those numbers. Brett Favre is on pace for very nearly the same yardage as Campbell’s 2009, but he has thrown 16 interceptions against his 10 touchdowns this season. His lack of bottom line success is reflected in his aforementioned league bottom rating, as well as by a completion percentage 3.4 points below his lowest over the past four seasons. A league or team focused on performance and results would have benched Brett Favre, and would have given Jason Campbell a contract extension.

But Campbell was exiled to Oakland, where he is currently leading the upstart Raiders to new found success. Brett Favre continues to stink up the Twin Cities, while a deserving talent in Tarvaris Jackson rides the pine. As for the Redskins, they have a quarterback in D.C. who just got that big contract extension that was earned by Campbell. Donovan McNabb’s new money looks alike like Favre’s, as his rating is just above the gunslinger’s at the floor of the National Football League. Curious standards indeed.

The Rational Middle is listening…

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