I was out of town for a couple of days and unable to post, and I just wanted to get a quick comment up here this morning. Last week, Harvey Araton wrote a column in the New York Times that really bothered me when I read it, and bothers me even more now that a young player for the Buffalo Bills, Kevin Everett, may have been paralyzed following a tackle during a kickoff in yesterday’s season opener.
In the piece, Araton attacked Michael Strahan for not showing up to training camp, snidely remarking that Strahan was setting his own schedule, and comparing him unfavorably to Matt Lentz, a journeyman lineman out of the University of Michigan who, unlike Strahan, is hungry to do whatever is necessary to get an NFL job, including compete hard in training camp.
Araton also tried, convolutedly, to link Strahan’s lack of “hunger” to Appalachian State’s defeat of Michigan, as evidence of the triumph of a blue collar ethic over the coddled residents of elite level sports. (As an aside, that victory is looking a little less impressive after this weekend’s far more disturbing debacle against Oregon).
Araton concludes by adopting the pose, so depressingly familiar in sports journalism these days, of tribune for the common man:
“At the top of the football food chain, it must be nice to know you can take off the sweatiest month of the season, and then a holiday weekend, and still have a job. But what an insult to everyone else.”
Who, exactly, is that an insult to? Not me, I can tell you. Araton writes, what, two columns a week, some of which, like the Strahan piece, are completely phoned in, for what I am certain is very good compensation. Should everyone be insulted by Araton’s extraordinarily privileged arrangement and his clear demonstration of a lack of journalistic “hunger”? And, while getting fingers caught in the keyboard is, I am sure, a serious hazard of the job, Araton’s not exactly putting his body on the line the way an NFL player does.
If Strahan’s teammates are pissed at Strahan, that’s one thing. They can complain all they like, as far as I am concerned. They understand the rigors of NFL life, the horrible toll it takes, the constant pain. They have standing, in other words, to question Strahan’s commitment. My guess is that most of them don’t because Strahan’s been doing this for fifteen years now and if he wants to take a training camp off, then so be it. Araton, in fact, quoted one Giant (other than Lentz, who is a practice squad player) on the matter, Amani Toomer, the veteran wide receiver out of Michigan. And, Toomer said: “he’s been to more training camps than most.” Doesn’t sound like Toomer’s particularly bent out of shape about it.
Strahan’s contract stipulates clearly what the consequences of missing camp are: fines and loss of pay. And, I am certainly not defending Strahan’s subsequent annoyance at the Giants for assessing those fines: that seems to me a clear, and fair, part of the bargain.
But, in the light of Everett’s injury, Araton’s whining takes on an even more odious tone.
And, in case he’s forgotten, perhaps the most widely noted instance of on-field paralysis occurred during a preseason game, when the Patriots’ wideout Darryl Stingley was permanently confined to a wheel chair following a hit in a 1978 exhibition contest.
Araton may actually believe that professional athletes owe him personally – that their sweat and sacrifice is for his benefit and that he is the rightful arbiter of where their autonomy as human beings ends. But, please spare me the sanctimony. Don’t pretend you know what it’s like to be a football player, or that you have standing to lecture people on whether they’re coddled and soft, or that you speak for “everybody else.” All three pretenses are wrong and offensive.