By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com
If you ever wonder why so many fans are continually rolling their eyes over the TMZ-ification of sports journalism, the latest reporting on Rex Ryan should paint a pretty clear picture.
On Sunday up in Cortland, N.Y., the Jets’ head coach found himself in a bit of a snafu over how much authority he actually has making decisions that impact the day-to-day operations of the team.
To understand why he was pressed on the issue, you have to rewind to Saturday when new general manager John Idzik, who when asked his thoughts on the ongoing training camp quarterback competition between incumbent Mark Sanchez and new kid on the block Geno Smith, said basically no one man will determine which player starts.
Translation: As far as the Jets front office is concerned, more people than just Rex will have input, presumably on everything.
Ryan then said a day later that the decision-making mechanism within the Jets’ hierarchy has by and large always been by committee. And while some may find that notion hard to believe, given Ryan’s penchant for declaring that he’s the lone sheriff in town, the fact remains if your GM says the team is going to employ a specific decision-making model, who is the head coach to say otherwise? One man’s name plate on his office door is more pronounced than the other’s, last I checked.
That doesn’t seem to resonate with some reporters. To them, it appears to be about creating the circus they always say Rex and his players are guilty of cultivating. Make no mistake, the embarrassment the Jets can be in print and in front of a microphone sometimes is as much the media’s fault as it is their own.
Luckily for Ryan, he’s starting to become smart enough to know how to give himself cover, so as to not cross any imaginary line between himself and Idzik. His job this entire offseason has been to tone down the rhetoric since it has more often than not opened the door to chaos, as we’ve seen every day for the last four-plus years. The problem is there are some in the media who despise this new and somewhat verbally cautious Rex, despite the fact that those same reporters were the ones saying Ryan’s mouth has always been his biggest problem.
I’m sorry, but you can’t have it both ways.
It seems to me that some in the media need Ryan to do their jobs for them. They want stories handed to them on a silver platter, so when in doubt tweaking Rex seems like the perfect catalyst to get the ball rolling for that desired quote or sound bite.
But what’s the fundamental job of the media when it comes to covering a professional sports team? I always thought it was reporting on things that actually happen, not on things that are manufactured for the purpose of fitting into a carefully contrived agenda.
The Jets have certainly been guilty of creating many of the firestorms they have often found themselves in due to their own ineptitude, but since the underwhelming 2012 season ended they have done precisely what Idzik has wanted them to do. They’ve gone away from screaming “look at us!” and more toward a business-like approach to rebuilding a team that for the first two years of Ryan’s tenure was one of the four best teams in the NFL.
And while I can sympathize with the dog-eat-dog world of dozens of reporters fighting among themselves for stories, it doesn’t excuse the type of behavior we’re still seeing, mostly because it’s plainly obvious that Rex in many instances is not going to be allowed to do his job as he sees fit.
I think a lot of people have also forgotten about what the Internet has done to the traditional news cycle. Your great scoop for a newspaper’s front page is no more, or at least now lacks the bite it once had. More and more readers go elsewhere for their daily information anyway, be it to bloggers or fan sites or PR factions within the very teams the mainstream scribes are trying to cover.
So, should that give reporters license to lower themselves into the muck of what has basically become a sports paparazzi? I say, no. Because it is cheapening the hard-earned reputations many news organizations have developed for fair and balanced reporting.
The mainstream press has dumbed down its coverage of teams and has, as a result, resorted to going into full-out tabloid mode on just about everything. That approach has done a great disservice to those out there who actually want to report the news and to readers who want nothing more than to simply learn about what’s happening on the field.
Ryan, at least in my opinion, is slowly turning into more of a sympathetic figure by the day. Rumors have run rampant that the upcoming season will undoubtedly be his last in New York should the Jets not be better than the 6-10 they were last season. But, again, I have to ask what this is being based on. Clearly the Jets have holes, most specifically at quarterback. There’s a good chance their best wide receiver won’t play much, if at all, this season. They lost their best player in the offseason because they refused to cave to his demands. They are young and inexperienced at critical positions. At this point, 2013 is at the very least a work in progress.
So, how exactly is Ryan supposed to magically make what appears to be an undermanned and under-talented squad better? Better yet, how is he supposed to do this in late July?
At the end of the day, I see Ryan as a man who is still being persecuted for predictions of years’ past. If writers want to get on him for not overseeing the offense more, that’s fair game. If they want to kill him for in-game decisions that lead to losses, again, fair game. If the locker room goes to hell and the Jets revolt against their leader, reporters have every right to reveal every last unsavory detail.
But to continually attempt to manufacture anarchy, when there clearly is none at this point, just screams to the truth that some reporters want to create stories, rather than report on them.
At some point the page has to be turned and Rex and the Jets need to be judged publicly on what they are and will be, not on what they once were. All the badgering in the world is not going to change the fact that Ryan has a vote of confidence from owner Woody Johnson and appears to be in the good graces of Idzik.
That, of course, could change, but how about us seeing a reason for it possibly changing first before we continue to throw dirt on this man’s grave?
That’s not asking a lot. It’s simply requesting the media be fair and, God forbid, balanced for once. Right now the Jets are about creating an atmosphere of competition, nothing more. The only real controversies that I see exist on the field, where they belong.
Rex needs space to do his job. And right now he doesn’t seem to have it. The playing field for him is clearly tilted in one direction. It’s not right. It’s not professional.
Let him buttfumble something he actually controls. Then he’ll become fair game. But until then, he looks more and more like the victim at the center of a lynch mob armed with tape recorders.
Simply, Rex hasn’t been allowed to move on and it stands to reason he won’t until the day he’s actually moved on, if then.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet