The Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took a PR hit when Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell checked out. Roethlisberger was eviscerated. GM Kevin Colbert was villainized. The piling on continues.
But, in the process, damage also got done to the concept of journalism. (Journalism has taken a beating for quite a while now.)
In Robert Klemko’s story at SI.com, ex-Steelers back Josh Harris accused Ben Roethlisberger of intentionally fumbling in 2014. That’s an incredibly serious allegation. Klemko readily gave Harris a platform to make it, but didn’t talk to anybody else in that huddle. That’s Journalism 101. But Klemko ignored it. Why?
Because it didn’t fit the narrative, that’s why.
Klemko’s intent was to write a hit piece on Roethlisberger. He only sought information that was a means to that end.
Klemko didn’t talk to center Maurkice Pouncey, who later debunked Harris’ fantastic accusation on Instagram.
Nor did Klemko speak with quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who was on the headsets that day. Gradkowski used Instagram to post video of the play in question and did a blow-by-blow account describing why things went (accidentally) wrong.
The story was absolute bush-league nonsense. But it fulfilled Klemko’s intent.
Perhaps even more embarrassing was Le’Veon Bell’s interview with SI.com’s Jenny Vrentas. (What happened to the once-proud Sports Illustrated franchise?)
Bell told Vrentas that Roethlisberger didn’t get him the ball enough. Roethlisberger’s “personal preferences played a role,” Bell said.
When Bell says that, Vrentas has to push back for the sake of her own credibility. In Bell’s last season with the Steelers, he led the league in touches. So how did Roethlisberger’s “personal preferences” hold back Bell? Anyway, didn’t Bell sit out 2018, in part, to protect his body from too many touches?
But Vrentas didn’t push back. She just blithely let Bell continue his infomercial. Vrentas could not possibly have done a worse job.
That’s all that interview was: an infomercial for Bell. Just like Antonio Brown’s appearances on ESPN and HBO were infomercials for him.
Outlets like Sports Illustrated and ESPN are so eager to get interviews with big names like Bell and Brown that the subjects are put at zero risk. It’s all kid gloves. It’s negotiated by the agents and the athletes get the questions in advance.
Would Brown have sat down with ESPN if the interviewer had been Jeremy Schaap, known for his probing insight? Schaap did battle with Bobby Knight and won. Schaap wouldn’t sit there and lob softballs.
But Jeff Darlington would and did. Darlington nodded like a stooge when Brown absurdly said, “I don’t take any blame. I think I took responsibility for my situation. I didn’t point the finger. I didn’t make no one look bad.”
Brown takes responsibility for nothing. He won’t even pay for his daughter’s haircut. How do you let tripe like that slide by?
When you’re just glad to be there, that’s how.
Pouncey and Gradkowski, among others, have spoken out against the madness. Fox’s Skip Bayless said that the motivation provided makes Roethlisberger his pick to be NFL MVP. (That’s not far-fetched. Here’s betting Roethlisberger has a huge year.)
But Roethlisberger himself has been quiet.
That’s smart. The only way this ever dies down is if somebody shuts up.
It’s called taking the high road. Bell and Brown couldn’t find the high road with a state-of-the-art GPS. The slavering quasi-journalists who enabled the lies and treachery directed against Roethlisberger and the Steelers don’t know the directions, either.