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.


11 Responses to “Hunger”

  1. J,

    Great post. I’m reminded of something that the editors of
    Pro Football Weekly had to say about sportwriters who
    question the severity of player injuries. They said that
    if your worst injury was a hang nail, you are not qualified
    to speculate on anyone’s injuries.

  2. Me and my friends came up with a good way to describe how NFL players feel after their best games, when they come away alive and injury-free and this was co-signed by several players….

    Every Sunday is like getting into a car accident. You know when you feel like crap, sore, dilapidated, 10 years older, scrambling for pain medicine, not sure if your back really needs to be looked at, unable to sleep well, wondering how long you won’t be able to lift your arm fully or turn your neck fully, hoping that that one Tuesday you get off is enough…..

  3. Good piece, J — we can take the same assessment to First Take today, as Eli Manning gets savaged by know-nothings like Skip Bayless for not coming back in with a potentially injured throwing shoulder and “gutting it out” when he was the only reason the Giants were still in the game in the first place.

  4. “Are you not entertained?!?!” – enslaved General Maximus Decimus Meridius, Gladiator (2000)

  5. Sportwriters are really bitches. Straight up. Soft, jealous bitches. It’s really, really sad.

    Man, I feel sorry for NFL players every time I watch a game. I played ball in high school and was pretty good, and never, ever have I felt a pang of regret for not trying to push myself to play in the NFL. That is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, and while they get paid to do it, it’s still a much more pain filled job than 90 percent of the work most Americans do.

  6. Please tell me that Eli is not getting toasted in the NY media for getting injured. He was balling this Sunday, but damn did they get decimated personnel-wise.

  7. ‘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.’

    Hey, carpal tunnel can be a bitch. And you know, when you sit down to type, sometimes the chair doesn’t support your back right. It is a perilous profession, to write and sit in front of a computer.

    Elisha should never get any sympathy from anyone. What he should’ve done, is come into the league as a third round pick (and would’ve if not for the name), and should be the hyped up guy that is the starter in his 4th season after riding the bench for the last 3 years. Instead… well, we all know.

  8. Great piece jweiler.

  9. It’s insipid when some sportswriters think they are the final arbiters of anything of what an NFL player or any althlete goes through to get ready for a season. I have seen Doug Williams and many current and ex- pro ballplayers and you can see the toll this game takes on their bodies, It reminds me of what George Harrison of The Beatles said ” You Gave us your screams but we gave you our nervous systems and that’s the biggest scacrifice anyone can give “. Araton’s common man BS piece is a joke. Let’s pray for the Bills player who was injured yeaterday.

  10. J, nice piece and welcome back. The arrogance that you point out in Araton’s piece seems to be more the rule than the exception from journalists who are not ex-athletes. I would be wonderful if every writer, at minimum, had to go through a trainining camp of whatever sport that they had to cover…

  11. That’s why y’all here win awards…y’all keep it real. No whiny writing here.

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