Jon Reed Goes Off On... November 2007


Saturday, November, 24 2007

Gregg Easterbrook Hates the Pats and I Hate Gregg Easterbrook

The goal of sports journalism is no different than any other form of journalism: be as entertaining as possible while retaining a commitment to an exacting standard of fairness. It’s not always easy to entertain and be fair to your subjects at the same time. Most of the worst sports commentary occurs when writers give into their desire to empty all their arrows by entertaining instead of striving for journalistic objectivity. Gregg Easterbrook, columnist of ESPN.com’s Page 2, has been doing quite a lot of entertaining at the expense of fairness lately, and we’ll get to him momentarily.

But first, I want to hit on a broader point about journalism and objectivity. Historically, there has been a faulty notion in journalism that you can be totally objective in your presentation of the news. We now know that this is impossible, but unfortunately, when objectivity was discredited, the end result was sometimes the reverse: an abandonment of the very idea of fairness - sloppy, opinionated, and poorly-informed work that was a disservice to readers.

As a writer, I continue to aspire to the high bar of fairness. It’s a standard I know I can never consistently achieve, but I aspire to it nevertheless. One way to do that is by acknowledging your own subjectivity. By striving to understand and disclose your own biases, you have the best chance of overcoming them while alerting the reader to where your allegiances stand. I believe that the best journalists achieve something close to objectivity by fessing up to their own subjectivity and then, in the process of defining the parameters of that subjectivity, they hopefully overcome it.

Interestingly enough, in some quarters, there is still an infatuation with the notion that an old-fashioned “objectivity” is possible. Usually, those who believe this are incredibly intelligent people who wrongfully assume that their vast intellect allows them to see all sides of an issue and relay it better than those with lesser intellects. I believe that this is the affliction the aforementioned Gregg Easterbrook is suffering from.

Gregg is a gifted and wide-ranging intellectual. He knows more about football, and for that matter, many other subjects, than I do. He is, in short, brilliant. But in his brilliance, he can also run circles around himself, and fall victim to the notion that he has no base instincts and no petty hatreds of his own to overcome.

But Gregg certainly does. Gregg, you see, is a closet Patriots hater and self-appointed accomplishment diminisher, and as a huge Patriots fan, I am in a position to have an especially strong reaction to his idiocy. It doesn’t bother me that Gregg has demonized the Patriots. What does bother me is that he has never had the guts to admit that he has an agenda to undermine the team and its accomplishments. In fairness, Gregg has raised some important points about the extent of the so-called Spygate controversy and some of the related issues the NFL has swept under the rug.

Unfortunately, agendas that are not acknowledged lead to many falsehoods and an unclear picture. Gregg worships at the altar of the Indianapolis Colts, so as a result, he is unable to see that every team has good and bad individuals on it, and in fact, that most individuals struggle with moral complexities within themselves. He thinks Peyton Manning is a prince sent to this earth to play all-American football, whereas I tend to see Peyton in a more nuanced way, as a great leader who can get a little bitchy when things don’t go his way, as a great comedic actor (if Saturday Night Live was any indication) who doesn’t mind making fun of himself, but who also doesn’t mind being a corporate whore for any oversized check with his name on it either.

But the nut that is really stuck in my gum right now has to do with Gregg’s last column, where he diminished Tom Brady’s exceptional season by asserting that Joey “why can’t I get it together?” Harrington would be a star also if he was playing behind New England’s offensive line. Nevermind that a football lifer like John Madden says that Tom Brady is playing the quarterback position as well as it’s every been played. It goes without saying that Gregg knows a lot less about football than John Madden. That said, Gregg still has a right to his opinion, but putting Tom Brady and Joey Harrington in the same sentence is not about forming a flawed opinion, it’s about being a hater with a big old ax to grind. Keep on hating, Gregg. I hope that the team you root for most winds up with Joey Harrington shortly.

I’m not the first to criticize Easterbrook’s pretentious and irresponsible columns. He has received a huge amount of negative feedback, to the point that ESPN ombudsman had to take the unprecedented step of rebuking him two months in a row for his borderline irresponsible journalism. I do give Gregg a slight amount of credit for apologizing for his most extreme representation of the Colts as Angels and the Pats as Satan, but his Harrington broadside occurred after that, so he has not learned his own self-taught lessons.

I don’t care that Gregg feels an intense need to demonize, dismiss or diminish the Patriots. But it bothers me greatly that the tries to do it in the guise of journalistic objectivity, as if he is the only one who sees that the Patriots have a great offensive line and therefore Joey Harrington and Tom Brady can be mentioned in the same sentence. Actually, Gregg, the thought had occurred to me too, but it was such an overwhelmingly stupid thought that I quickly dismissed it instead of featuring it in my column and patting myself on the back for being a contrarian.

Gregg is not alone in his absurdity. On all kinds of subjects, in all kinds of forums, so-called “journalists” are aggressively pursuing their agendas without openly acknowledging the roots of their frustrations and the passion of their subjectivity. Two examples from the opposite side of the political spectrum: the grandstanding Michael Moore and the insufferable George Will. This is not a Republican or Democratic thing - it’s an arrogance thing, and it’s insulting to those of us who want to form our own conclusions based on well-thought insights and open disclosure.

So, I’ll conclude this blog entry by acknowledging the obvious: yes, I am envious of Easterbrook’s platform and the likely reality that he is financially well off enough that he doesn’t have to do his writing when his eyes are burning up after an all-nighter of hard work to pay for the privilege to self-publish. I’ll leave it to readers to decide if my subjectivity invalidates my opinions. But I’d like to think that the fact that I am willing to completely own the ugly side of what makes me tick lends more credibility, not less, to the rest of my perspective. Presenting your subjectivity has a way of disarming it. I wish Gregg Easterbrook would do the same, but I doubt he will be able to save his soul in this manner. He’s too attached to his masturbatory intellectual virtuosity.

Gregg, I hope the Pats go 19-0. I hope the next time you are dreaming, you are running long for a pass with the Super Bowl on the line, and Joey Harrington overthrows you. Then we cut to a commercial, and Peyton Manning tries to sell you a range of products and services until the horror of your own hypocrisy wakes you like a screaming baby.


Categories: bad sports
posted on Saturday, November, 24 2007 by Jon Reed

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