C'Mon Man, What Was Written Was Not Right!
This is one of the best weekends of the year. Do I dare say that tomorrow's semifinal day for the NCAA basketball championship is my favorite as a sports' fan?
Four teams left. Four sets of fans. Four bands vying for attention. One victory away from the title game. It's festive. Alumni and bracket lovers across the country tuned in for a spectacular basketball doubleheader. I like semifinal day even better than the Monday championship.
I've seen Final Fours first-hand a number of times – the best was when I was the sports information director at Marquette University under the legendary coach Al McGuire. We won the title in 1977, beating a great North Carolina team that featured Phil Ford and Walter Davis.
McGuire, who had announced prior to the season that that would be his last year as a coach, left the court as soon as the game ended. I followed him, trying to remind him that there was immediately going to be the trophy presentation. Al went to the locker room, guarded by a giant state trooper, who, at first wouldn't let me follow the coach into our inner sanctum.
When I talked my way into the room, the head coach reached for a stack of towels, buried his head into them and paced the room while sobbing loud and hard. When he gained control, the famous head coach, who had grown up in one of the tougher neighborhoods of New York City, looked at me and said: "It's not often a kid from the streets touches the silk lace."
Still one of the best lines I've ever heard from a sports celebrity.
Don't Battle With Reporters
But, that's not why I bring up Coach Al. McGuire taught me one of the tenets I have followed for most of my professional career: "Never go to war with people who buy ink by the barrel."
What Al was saying is, "Don't publicly fight with reporters, because they always get the last word." I have used the quote often with the many coaches and athletes with whom I've had the privilege to know. I've said it to Art Modell, Marty Schottenheimer, John Harbaugh, Bernie Kosar, Ray Lewis, Michael McCrary, Brian Billick and on and on. We have to take it in this business. When reporters criticize, second-guess or even call a Raven stupid, I'm the one giving the advice: "Turn the other cheek – you have no chance of winning this battle."
I explain that one of the reasons we make this money in pro sports is because fans love to talk about us, watch us, pay to see us. There is yin and yang among the best sports' fans. Should the Ravens pass more? Should they blitz? Should they have called that play, drafted that player, released that veteran? Conversations and reporting like that are part of what make sports fun.
Getting ripped for doing that – when you do this for your livelihood – is sometimes tough to take. I'm likely to say to the rippee: "Get over it!" (I'm also the guy who has heard more than once: "Easy for you to say, they're not ripping you. It's not your wife or kids reading about how stupid you are." That's usually when I say: "I'll come back later.")
(Can you tell I'm a little reluctant to get to my main point?)
Here it is: I really got pissed this week when a Baltimore sports columnist, someone who is paid for his opinions, wrote this line: "But Ravens coach John Harbaugh wanted (Ed) Reed back as much as he wants a root canal."
The writer didn't say that this was his opinion. He wrote it as a fact – as if he had talked to Harbs at some point, and that our head coach had indicated that to him. Well, that didn't happen. Fact is the sentence in no way reflected John's feelings about the future Hall of Famer Reed.
A few hours after the story was first posted online, this was the Pro Football Talk headline: "JOHN HARBAUGH WANTED ED REED GONE." (Pro Football Talk, owned by NBC, is one of the most popular sports websites in the country.) Later in the day, "Harbaugh not wanting Reed" became a topic throughout the ESPN world – TV and radio.
The reporter's line had now become a national story.
Oh man, this had gotten big, and the Ravens were being asked to respond to the "report out of Baltimore that Harbaugh wanted Reed out – that Reed was like a root canal."
You know what, Ed Reed deserves better. So does John Harbaugh. The line was inconsiderate, offensive and not the truth.
I know this, if Harbs had read a line from the Houston Post that said: "Reed wanted to play for John Harbaugh as much as he wants a root canal," John would be hurt – and surprised. He would likely assume that Ed said that to some reporter. He would question if his friendship with Ed was a sham and that maybe he had been conned by the safety.
The Power Of The Press
That's the power of the press. That's the power of those who buy ink by the barrel. They have the ability to affect relationships and friendships. This time, I'm not telling Harbs to "forget about it."
This time I'm saying to our friend Ed Reed, our Hall of Famer who will be a Raven for the rest of his life after he spends some time with the Texans: John Harbaugh never indicated to anyone that he didn't want you back. He did want you back. Ozzie did, too. You got a better offer – another team showed you more financial love – and we understand completely why you had to take it.
Like you said: "It's the business of football." You understood that most of the greats in the game finish with another team – Shannon Sharpe, Rod Woodson, Joe Montana, LaDainian Tomlinson – we could make a long, long list.
And here's another line I've used with family and friends throughout my career, "Don't believe everything you read in the papers." Hopefully, Ed doesn't. Like I said, he deserves better, and so does Harbs.
Talk to you soon,
Kevin P.S. Go O's. We have about 100 staff and family at today's home opener.