Call it “Revenge of the Jocks,” a twist on real life in which aggrieved sports stars react to their frustrations with those of us who talk or type for a living by cutting out the middleman and going directly to the public.
This is not breaking news, of course, as first the Internet in general and later social media in particular offered sports, entertainment and political stars a way around traditional media outlets.
But the evolution continues apace, with this week providing a couple of fresh examples.
Take sports talk radio, please. For years, players and coaches – most notably in football – have used WFAN and ESPN New York as platforms for guest spots that often make news.
But the big news before the season was that Eli Manning no longer would do his weekly spot with Mike Francesa on WFAN, presumably not wanting to be in the position of eventually talking as the backup quarterback.
The big news last week was that Pat Shurmur would join Manning on the radio sideline, after the Giants decided Francesa was not being sufficiently respectful of their then-winless head coach.
The big news on Tuesday was that Jets safety Jamal Adams no longer would make his weekly appearance with Maggie Gray and Bart Scott on WFAN, citing . . . well, he did not say.
But the Jets are 0-3 and last week Gray pressed Adams on why he had removed the Jets from his social media bios, a legitimate question that seemed to make Adams uncomfortable.
On the air, Scott, a former Jet, said Adams had gotten “bad advice” and was missing an opportunity to “separate” himself and show leadership in difficult times.
Gray said she was “extremely disappointed” and added, “It’s not about me, and it’s not about the questions that I ask. This is about his opportunity to talk directly to the fan base. And for him, and for them rather, to hear his tone of voice.”
Well, yes and no. It is true that such questions – like those of other radio hosts and journalists – are crucial for fans to get complete stories about their favorite players.
But for Adams and every other athlete in 2019, talking to fans directly and having them hear the tone of his voice is as easy as pulling a phone out of his pocket.
Which brings us to another telling modern media moment in Jets-land, two days before Adams went on hiatus.
It was late Sunday afternoon in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and the Jets had lost to the Patriots, 30-14. Le’Veon Bell sat at his locker, shirtless, scrolling through his phone for 10 or 15 minutes.
No worries. The man deserved time after a long day at the office to wind down, check his texts and social media accounts and take a shower before addressing reporters.
When he was ready, he was calm, professional, philosophical and quotable, fulfilling his NFL-mandated media responsibility capably.
But wait: It turned out, based on the time stamp, that while at his locker Bell was posting a defiant, emotional tweet more quotable than anything he said after showering.
It read, in part, “We embrace the hate, and everyone that wants to see my team fail, or me fail individually, I’ll remember, we’ll remember it ALL, & use it, & wear it as a badge of honor!”
all you haters, enjoy it for now..just don’t go casper when all this gets turned around..we embrace adversity, we embrace the hate, and everyone that wants to see my team fail, or me fail individually, I’ll remember, we’ll remember it ALL, & use it, & wear it as a badge of honor!— Le'Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) September 22, 2019
& all of the fans, we need you! More than ever, don’t give up on this team..just keep believing we’ll get this ship turned around & sailing in the right direction! We’ll give it our ALL and we’ll be back after the bye..we love you all & we appreciate all your support, it’s NEEDED— Le'Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) September 22, 2019
Good stuff, and reporters would have asked him about it, had they not been speaking to him at the time the rest of Internet-connected humanity was able to read it.
It was surreal. Not that Bell did anything wrong. He has a right to post whatever he wishes and, again, he fulfilled his NFL-mandated responsibilities professionally, as I assume Adams will continue to do.
Same goes for Shurmur and Manning.
Maybe those weekly radio spots are just an anachronism. But are the rest of us anachronisms too?
Adams and Bell provided reminders of the ever-changing dynamic at play. There is nothing we question-askers can do about it, and fans are not likely to side with us.
But keep in mind that even if you do not like some of the questions, the goal always is to ask them on your behalf. When players go directly to the public, the goal usually does not go beyond speaking on their own behalf.