Why, despite a full decade of coming up short on the biggest stage, or throwing an ill-advised pass which is intercepted at the worst possible time, does the national media as a whole love and worship him, and certain people in that group find it nearly impossible to criticize him?
I’ll tell you why. It’s very simple actually. He treats them well, makes them feel special, and fills their notebooks. In fact, if an athlete wants to be adored by the press, he’d do well to study what Favre has done. I’ll give you a few examples.
1) He spends extra time with the TV broadcast crew on Friday/Saturday.
When a broadcast crew is assigned a particular game, a portion of time is set aside for them to sit down and talk with a few key members of each team. It’s usually the quarterback, perhaps the head coach, and a few other players of note for that game. They come in, and talk for usually a set amount of time, say, 30 minutes or an hour. I’ve heard stories of Favre spending three hours in these sessions, to the point that the crew need to leave. He’ll just sit there and answer any question, shoot the breeze, spend as much time as they want. The broadcasters love this. Many players dread these sessions, and it probably comes across in those sessions. But Brett gives them all they want and more, so they’re going to praise him up and down during the telecast on Sunday.
2) He has media members over to his home, during and after the season.
This is another sly-but-calculated technique of Favre. Open up your home. Let the media see you away from the field. Feed them. The media loves to be fed. Let them sit on your couch and hang out with you. Let them see you interacting with your family, with your dog, mowing your lawn. This humanizes him even further to them. He’s no longer “Brett Favre, Star NFL QB” but now “Brett Favre, ordinary guy.” If someone invites you to their home, treats you nicely, are you then going to rip them in front of millions? You’re at least going to cushion your words of criticism.
3) He’ll text message them to make them feel special.
Wow…Brett Favre sent me a text message! He’s thinking of me! He’s my friend! Or maybe he’ll pick up the phone and tell you that he’s just sitting at home, watching American Idol while his daughter chases the dog all over the house. Humanizing. Personal. Not going to rip this guy.
4) He shows his emotions – freely.
Up or down, you know how Favre feels. Whether he’s celebrating on the field, or crying at the end of the season, his emotions are all out there for the world to see. In an era where athletes are “professional” and it’s just a job, and they don’t let the world inside, Favre lets it all out. That makes him something different to the media which craves this sort of thing. Favre also lets the media inside his personal life. He’s had some tragedy and tough times in his life – his painkiller addiction, his father’s death, his wife’s breast cancer. These incidents, sad as they are, are in no way unique among NFL players. Parents die, loved ones are sick, addictions are overcome all the time, but again many of today’s athletes are intensely private about these types of things. Favre isn’t. The media loves these stories of overcoming adversity, and just eat it up. They also remember these times later when he fails, and it tempers their criticism of him. The press hates Bill Belichick for being robotic in press conferences following games – it gives them nothing to work with. Brett shares all that, and again, it makes him human to them. They love that.
5) His press conferences are long and “folksy.”
Favre is the master of the “aw shucks” persona during press conferences. These are usually marathon sessions in which he answers every possible question. He again does so in a “regular guy” manner getting verbose, and spinning new ways to spout the time-tested clichés of athlete press conferences. He is also an expert at making it look like he’s taking all the blame and none of the credit, when subtly, it is the exact opposite. He helps the media do their job. They’re going to then feel bad turning around and ripping him.
In addition to the above, he’s crafted his public image carefully as well by the endorsements he does. I can really just think of two current commercial series with him, and they both portray him in a certain way. The jeans commercial, where he’s playing touch football with his buddies in the back yard…”regular guy.” The commercial where he is trying to select a new TV and can’t make up his mind – a self-deprecating reference to his constant inability to make up his mind on his latest retirement. Likeable. Poking fun at himself.
I’m not blaming Favre for doing any of these things. In fact, you’ve got to admire how hard he works to keep the media on his side, and why it becomes so hard for many of them to come out and just rip him. As you can see, it isn’t rocket science, either. Treat people nicely, help them out wherever you can, make them feel special, and you’re going to instill irrevocable loyalty in them.
Don’t expect things to change this offseason, no matter what ultimately happens, and don’t expect it to stop after he retires, either. We’re stuck with him for a long time. He and the media enable each other.