It must frustrate the living hell out of most sports fans, the constant circus off the field or court that often engulfs the product on it.
Fortunately, I am not one of those people.
I am an avid proponent of as much chaos and disarray in the world of athletics as all those involved can provide. Why not maximize the entertainment value? It is why I miss the football seasons, both college and professional, so much when they draw to a close. Not because of any great love for the actual sport, but for the drama and the controversy that seems to always lurk in its shadow.
After a contest that saw Atlanta emerge victorious 36-20, Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett verbally side-swiped a reporter who dared to ask why there had been minimal pressure put on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
“We got a lot of pressure,” Bennett, who notched three tackles, a sack and a pass defensed, said. “He threw the ball really fast and there was a bunch of stuff going on and obviously you don’t know football. “There’s some [expletive] that happened. He threw the ball pretty fast. He did his thing. We rushed as good as we could.
“Get out of my face now. Don’t tell me I didn’t do my job (expletive). OK, exactly. Get the (expletive) out of my face. Like I said, get out of my face. Don’t play with me. Don’t play with me. I just put my heart on the (expletive) field. Don’t (expletive) play with me. Get the (expletive) out of my face then. Try me again, see what happens. I ain’t one of these (expletive) out here. Don’t try to tell me what I didn’t do (expletive).
“We lost the game! That’s the NFL, you non-playing [expletive]! What you do with your life? What you do with your lifetime, [expletive]? What injury you play through? What adversity you went through?”
The reporter who Bennett berated about adversity had battled Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2009.
During tirade, Michael Bennett asked Q13 reporter Bill Wixey “What adversity you went through?!” Well, Wixey survived Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
— Matt Calkins (@Matt_Calkins) January 15, 2017
Naturally, we, as the collective sports media, were enraged. While Bennett could not have possibly known about Bill Wixey’s cancer, that does not excuse the frustrated player from snapping at him the way he did, right?
As far as I am concerned, Michael Bennett should be allowed to say whatever the hell he wants. This is probably the most unpopular argument to make but I believe it to be so. Bear with me.
It is a fickle relationship we have with our professional athletes. On the one hand, we want as much access as humanly possible from players, coaches and teams. We want to watch a sideline reporter talk to Coach or Player X at half-time, even though there is not one instance in the history of those fundamentally useless reports in which Coach/Player X has given a substantive or informative answer. But, you want the access and we feel the need to show you that we have it.
We want to hear from these players and coaches after both loss and defeat. We want them to sit there and answer to us regardless of their emotional or physical state. But when they give us something other than generalizations or canned coach-speak, we lash out and tell them to fall in line and “act like they’ve been there before.”
There are, of course, exceptions and Michael Bennett, up to this point, has been one of them.
my dude is wearing a Christmas sweater depicting his own penalized sack dance pic.twitter.com/VV41qYByFw
— Matt Ufford (@mattufford) December 21, 2016
Since Bennett came into the public view, he has delighted us with his unadulterated honesty and quirky behavior.
When Bennett was openly talking about holding out for more money than his current contract allotted him, we laughed and applauded him when he cited the ridiculousness that then Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford was, “complaining about making $40 million in the next two years, and because he actually has to compete for his position,” or when he remarked that his preparation for games involved “no sex on Wednesday. I save it all for Sunday, after the game.”
Bennett comes from coach Pete Carroll’s locker room, where outspoken players abound and are seemingly encouraged to speak their minds on issues they deem worthy. Hell, earlier this season Seattle’s star cornerback Richard Sherman even went so far as to call out his own offensive coordinator for calling a pass play backed up on their own 1-yard line, rightly pointing out that they, the players, “go out there, we sacrifice, we battle. We don’t give away our battle. You honor our sacrifice.”
Since Seattle became a regular title contender, we have lauded the team for its progressive style of thinking and management. It is why they are regarded as one of the most socially conscious teams in any sport and the freedom it allows for helped a group of loud mouths, low-round draft picks and misfits come together and win a Super Bowl in 2014. We remarked that the honesty and openness shown by the Seahawks players was refreshing. Now, when we see a player express himself with the same honesty and openness that we always have, we question what is going on in that same locker room and pass judgement on his character from afar.
You cannot have it both ways.
We tell them to just shut up and go home because they have lost without having any regard for what the hardship of a defeat on that level of competition feels like to a person whose competitiveness and passion are a good deal of the reason they made it this far. Then, after that kind of defeat, to come into a locker room to a bunch of microphones and cameras shoved in your face and a barrage of questions about why you were not good enough.
I guarantee a few of us might not handle that situation particularly well.
It is why I cringed Monday morning when I heard my friend Jason Fitz during his “Fitz Unfiltered” segment bashing Bennett’s actions, saying that “you can’t act like an ass and keep your fans” and asking that players like Bennett that have these outbursts to remain even “slightly likable” for the sake of the fans whose interest helps to fund his salary.
For the life of me, I cannot understand why he should have to comply with that at all.
If you, the fans, feel so strongly about about Bennett’s or another athlete’s actions, I invite you to stop watching football. Unless you are prepared to do that, I see no reason at all why Bennett should have to adhere to anyone’s sensibilities but his own. If he chooses to spurn the media, so be it. Legally, he has done nothing wrong, he has harmed no one physically and if there is an NFL fine associated with his actions and he is willing to pay it to give a reporter a tongue-lashing, that is no one’s problem but his own.
The reality for many of these players is that they do not play their sport for the sake of you and I, whether they admit to it or not. I would venture to say that a solid majority of these players do this for the money and that the adoration of their fans factors in very little.
Why should they care what you or I think of them? What obligation do they have to behave well for the sake of us? Is it in their job description to do away with all semblance of human emotion and shower us with fake humility and to always be the role model? If Michael Bennett were to tear his ACL or have a more serious injury that ends his career, would you give it much more thought than to wonder who is behind him on the depth chart?
Probably not. As fans, we are all guilty of this at some point or another.
Maybe it is cynicism on my part, but the idea that Bennett or any other player, as Fitz said, does not “deserve to make a living because they don’t respect the fans” is pretty ridiculous. Most fans I have encountered do not respect the sacrifice these players put their bodies through for the sole purpose of our entertainment. Most fans barely look at these players as human, viewing them instead as nothing more than a very replaceable cog in their favorite toy.
Michael Bennett should apologize to the reporter who he did not know had battled cancer. But, to the idea that Bennett or any other athlete should apologize to you and I for such a harmless action as dropping few F-bombs?
If I was Bennett, I would look at my Super Bowl ring, pay the fine and laugh at the idea of fans sitting at home, falsely indignant and clutching out pearls.