Sports Media Musings: Manti Te’o & The Rise of Deadspin; Felger & Mazz Dance With Themselves

Girl: Do not try to bend the spoon, that’s impossible; only try to realize the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Girl: There is no spoon.

–         The Matrix

We generally try to stay relevant to the topic in this space. And college athletics is anything but relevant in the realm of Boston sports media. That said, the Manti Te’o saga, probably the strangest story to break since the ascent of Twitter, has destroyed the Internet, induced a litany of conspiracy theories, and, ultimately, illuminated a myriad of failings on the part of major publications across the country; leaving one, rather unlikely, entity, Deadspin, standing atop the mountain.

To tersely recap, Te’o’s girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died of leukemia hours after his grandmother passed away. Only she didn’t, because Kekua never actually existed. Under the guise of Te’o’s emotional leadership, Notre Dame would go undefeated before losing in the National Championship Game.  Elements of this inspirational story were told across multiple outlets, including ESPN, Sports Illustrated, LA Times, New York Times, the AP and more; recounted on CBS This Morning; and, perhaps, the cathartic nature helped spearhead Te’o’s prominence as a Heisman candidate. (The last of which, we hold reservations towards – he did have to, you know, make plays on the field.)

Notre Dame held a gripping press conference last night where it stood behind its embattled linebacker, claiming he had been a victim of an elaborate hoax. That’s where we are.

Make no mistake about it, on a much, much smaller scale, this story echoes the New York Times’ shoddy reporting during the weapons of mass destruction stories early last decade, which, no matter where your political allegiances lay, helped justify a war.It will be taught in journalism classes. Probably forever.

Speculating whether or not Te’o was complicit, knew at some point, or was completely oblivious is not a practice we have any interest in participating in; nor is wondering What This All Means. (that’s something I’ll tackle in next week’s Obstructed View column. Here is yesterday’s column, in case you missed it.)

Let the record show, however, Deadspin insinuated Te’o willingly participated in the hoax. And, more than any other news outlet, the one whom boasts, “Sports News Without Favor, Access or Discretion,” is to be trusted most here. Remarkably, they’ve earned that right. How, exactly, did we get to this point?

***

Last summer, I had a lengthy conversation with Deadspin’s co-founder and editor emeritus, Will Leitch. The New York Magazine editor, GQ contributor, and Sports On Earth columnist, told me he left Deadspin because “it was time.” His assertions are better described in his ode to his successor, A.J. Daulerio, entitled, “A.J. Ruined Deadspin, Thank God.” Editorially speaking, how you feel about paying for Brett Favre penis photos is certainly polarizing, but as Leitch wrote, Daulerio did, in fact, take Deadspin to the next level. Favre’s penis paid for the “art projects” and real reporting, like the Te’o story. When Daulerio left to become editor-in-chief of Gawker (Deadspin’s parent company), his replacement, Tommy Craggs, who turned down an opportunity to join forces with Bill Simmons at Grantland, used the leverage spawned from Daulerio’s reign to further push Deadspin away from smut and towards what it is today, which as we found out Wednesday night, is an amalgam of hilarious sports commentary (do yourself a favor and read Drew Magary if you haven’t already) and fantastic investigative pieces.

It’s still a Gawker site – the stench of the big screen identifying what content is generating page views will always exist, but it seems to have worked out. In my lengthy interview with Richard Deitsch, the renowned Sports Illustrated media columnist, we talked about Deadspin at length. “ … I’ve always said this,” Deitsch told me. “They do not pretend to be The New York Times, they do not play by the same rules as everyone else, so you have to judge them on that.”

He’s right. Deadspin is not the New York Times … they could be better.

This Week In Felger & Mazz Constituents

Senator McCarthy appears confused, and is on the verge of combusting. “It’s a quarterback’s league,” the Governor bemoaned all season long. Yet, The Last Great Contrarian is picking the Ravens, and Joe Flacco, to beat the Patriots, despite having Tom Brady under center.

This, among other things, is why The Squeaky One Who Agrees found himself in a precarious position, and with tremendous trepidation, announced “You’re going against your core values.”

The Likely Bitter One Who Deserves His Own Platform announced that the Kanye West Of Sports Radio ranked Flacco 20th amongst his peers starting in the NFL. Ye’ responded, claiming if you switched the surrounding situations of Flacco and Mark Sanchez, the difference in outcomes would be immaterial.

“You’re wrong,” a stunned (and undoubtedly freighted) Squeaky One Who Agrees retorted.

“I have a gut feeling. Too many things went the Patriots way last time, and won’t this time around,” Senator McCarthy fired back.

A slow gaze was shared between He & His Cohorts. The three looked at one another, realizing the Sports Radio Zenith – a true nirvana – had been reached: Arguing against oneself.  A special moment that should be captured in a time capsule.

It was a productive day.

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Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 44 vs. the Bulls

Celtics (32-11) vs. Bulls (15-29)
January 16, 1980
Boston Garden

Hosting Chicago for the first time in the season, the Celtics recovered from a harrowing loss to the Lakers by defeating the Bulls, 114-104, to improve to 3-1 in their seven-game home stand.  The Bulls were coming off a 21-point victory over the Kings the night before, and ran out of steam in the second quarter when coach Jerry Sloan received two technical fouls (in the “some things never change” department, a young Joey Crawford officiated the game) and was ejected as the Celtics claimed a 13-point lead at the half and never looked back. Continue reading Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 44 vs. the Bulls

The Obstructed View: Difficult Takes A Day; Impossible Takes A Week

In addition to my media notes, I’ll be swinging by Wednesday afternoons to write a weekly column dealing with How We Think About Sports (or something), entitled “The Obstructed View.” Think of it as an unfortunate tariff; and feel free to yell at me on Twitter about it (@Hadfield__) or email me at Hadfield.Ryan@gmail.com. 

The transitory sphere of sports commentary entertainment is alarming; probably because, alarmists are running the show.

This last weekend, for instance, saw miracles and epiphanies of the Other Kind unfold. On Saturday, The Book on Ravens quarterback, Joe Flacco, 28, changed from him being “inconsistent and frustrating” to “big when it matters most” and “dangerous;” and the signal caller in Atlanta, Matt Ryan, 27, once designated as a “fine regular season quarterback,” was reborn into a “winner” Sunday.

“It’s all happening!!!” Kate Hudson and her fellow “Band-aids” bellowed on the television screen Sunday night during my 187th viewing of “Almost Famous.”

Yes, it was. (Except it wasn’t.)

The problem with the much-talked about column written by Dan Shaughnessy (which the attention gained, as much as he denies, was exactly how he drew it up), is that he leaves no room for growth. Players are typecast, and crazy ideas like “learning about your craft” fall by the wayside (or somewhere else). Thus every player, it seems, is JaMarcus Russell or Tom Brady (unless you’re Brett Favre, in which case RIDE THE WAVE). And I think we can all agree, speaking and writing in vague, highly circumstantial terms that can’t possibly be quantitative – like adjudicating whether or not an athlete is “clutch” or a “winner” – is just obtuse. These concepts have been specious from the outset of their existence. And, mind you, their sheer existence is due to selfish fandom, writers yearning page views, and radio hosts trying to fill air time.

I can’t figure out why, however, we enable this to keep happening time and time again. Maybe it’s because, these days, we want things like ChuckStrong – the moniker placed behind the Colts’ improbable run, purportedly credited to the inspirational story of head coach Chuck Pagano, who recovered from cancer this season – to matter; instead of Andrew Luck being really good at football.

Because sports has to take a bigger form – It All Has To Mean Something, or else we start asking more pressing questions like, “What the hell are we really doing here, man?”

So, in turn, we constantly hear and read emphatic declarations of whether athletes pass or fail subjective “eye tests” based on intuition. Perception gradually coalesces into reality; only those ruling on such matters are manufacturing this perception, instead of observing what actually exists, leading to one sad fallacy: You are who you are, until, of course, you aren’t.

I was fat, then, I lost weight, and now I’m skinny – today am I a different person?

Woah, I just blacked out. Somewhere, Lance Armstrong is nodding. Suffice to say, existentialism and sports shouldn’t mix.

Still, the Shaughnessy and Michael Felger’s of the world sly wink and feign ignorance to this truth (even though they totally get it. It is, after all, staring them right in the face). Shank wrote a book about a mythical curse, which later was broken. It seems like Felger exclusively talks in generalities. For example, like most, he killed LeBron James after Paul Pierce drained a 3-pointer in Miami to give the Celtics an “insurmountable” 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.

James, everyone agreed, didn’t have stones. Months later, we all staggeringly recant, he does.

An interesting case study, really. At 18, LeBron James is a great basketball player. LeBron James, now slightly older, flees Cleveland, and thus, lacks self-awareness and is selfish. LeBron James fails to win a title in his first year on the Heat, and it’s decided he can’t will a basketball team to a championship (yes, this was a real question in 2011). Last summer, The King is crowned, after winning the NBA Championship and leading Team USA to Olympic Gold; magically, he’s transformed and (you guessed it) figured out how to be clutch!! Most recently, though, LeBron James showed regression by berating an official — consequently, he’s back to being a dick.

Everything is about this is true; yet, everything about this is false.

Contrary to popular beliefs, LeBron’s accomplishments last spring and summer didn’t alter the reality that he is a great basketball player; just like raising the Larry O’Brien trophy didn’t mark his personality traversing from puerile and nonsensical to reformed and modest. This isn’t a Hero’s Journey, just someone’s journey.

And, despite recent events, Matt Schaub still could have beaten New England last Sunday night, he just didn’t. Because … uh … because … ahhh screw it – NOTHING IS PROMISED, ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, AND THE OTHER GUYS GET PAID TO PLAY, TOO.

(Shit.)

Patriots-Ravens Round 2

The Patriots may have caught a break with the Ravens beating the Broncos in Denver Saturday, meaning the Patriots will now host Baltimore in Sunday’s AFC Championship. Don’t think it will be an easy win, despite the early line set at -9.5. The Ravens are one of the few teams who have given the Patriots fits in the past and don’t give an inch when going toe to toe with Brady and New England.

In fact, Brady’s two worst playoff games have come against the Baltimore defense. In the teams’ 2010 season playoff matchup Brady was 23-42 for 153 yards, two touchdowns, but three interceptions for a QB rating of 49. in the Ravens’ 33-14 beat down. Brady did not play particularly well in last year’s AFC Championship game where the Patriots pulled put a 23-20 win. He finished 22-36 for 239 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions for a rating of 57.5.

For those keeping track of media member predictions, Michael Felger already gave his, saying the Ravens would upset the Patriots on Sunday. This despite being all over Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco all season long.

For full Patriots coverage visit Patriotslinks.com.

They were nothing special covering kicks– Shalise Manza Young looks back at Sunday’s game and how poor the Patriots special teams played, especially the kick off team.

Patriots report card– Ron Borges hands out his grades from Sunday’s win. For the most part they were very good.

No introductions needed for AFC title game– Tony Massarotti says these teams know each other so well and it always is a one possession game, so the opening line of -9.5 is way too high.

Refresher on Patriots-Ravens– Mike Reiss looks back at the two teams’ matchup from Week 3, but notes a lot has changed for both teams since the game.

Patriots quietly take out any trash talk– Jeff Howe has the Patriots, as expected, not giving in to any trash talk despite what a few Ravens have said.

Why Patriots could beat Ravens– Kirk Minihane says unlike the Houston game, there is a chance Baltimore could pull off an upset Sunday.

Curran: I don’t see Ravens as a threat– Tom E. Curran doesn’t think the Ravens will pose much of a threat on Sunday.

Ho-Hum, Another AFC Title Game Appearance For The Patriots

The Patriots find themselves in their 7th AFC Championship game since the 2001 season, as they knocked off the Houston Texans 41-28 at Gillette Stadium yesterday.

Thanks to the Baltimore Ravens and their 2OT victory in Denver on Saturday night, the AFC Championship will be right here in Foxboro, where the Ravens beat the Patriots last January to go to the Super Bowl.

Well, they practically beat the Patriots, right? After Lee Evans dropped the winning TD had the winning TD stripped from this hands and Billy Cundiff missed a chip shot field that would’ve sent the Ravens to the Super Bowl would have tied the game.

The Ravens will be back, hungry for revenge, and eager to have Ray Lewis’ final game be the Super Bowl in New Orleans. They can beat the Patriots, as some are eager to point out, and I wonder how much we’ll hear about whether it matters when you’ve lost to a team already in the regular season. We’ve already got one villain for the week, and there should be no shortage of storylines for the media to drool over.

Get all the coverage from yesterday’s win at PatriotsLinks.com.  Meanwhile, here are a few items of note this morning:

What we learned: Get ready for latest chapter of rivalry with Ravens – Christopher Price touches on all the big points from yesterday and looks ahead.

Ninkovich picks good time for INT – Greg A Bedard looks at the Patriots defender once again making the big play. This column is a prime example of very good football writing. Great stuff.

Of course, the Globe also runs two clown columns today, one by Shaughnessy taking his victory lap, and the other by Gasper smugly saying “Time to up your game, Patriots.”  Terrible, terrible columns both.

Pats adjust to life without Gronk – The Patriots will be without tight end Rob Gronkowski for the reminder of their playoff run after he re-injured his arm yesterday, but Mike Reiss says that at least this season, the Patriots have experience playing without Gronk.

Patriots put mental toughness on display in win over Texans – While football simpletons like Gasper talk about how nothing yesterday should make you confident that the Patriots can win it all, others note that after the Patriots lost two of their big weapons – Gronkowski and Danny Woodhead, whom much of the gameplan going in had revolved around – they were able to completely adjust and still put up 41 points on an allegedly stout Houston defense. Tom E Curran looks at the Patriots stepping up, and at why the Ravens may have started talking already.

Speaking of Curran, he did have showdown with Shaughnessy (and Felger) on CSNNE yesterday. It’s worth a watch.

http://www.csnne.com/common/thePlatform/web_45/swf/flvPlayer.swf

A couple of SI links:

Offensive outburst, meeting of legends set up conference finals – MMQB. The usual number of head-scratching statements and proclamations.

MEDIA CIRCUS – Among other things, Richard Deitsch’s media column looks at whether Brian Billick, who worked the Falcons/Seahawks game for FOX, should’ve disclosed that Atlanta coach Mike Smith is his brother-in-law.

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 43 vs. the Lakers

Celtics (32-10) vs. Lakers (30-15)
January 13, 1980
Boston Garden

Defense.

The Los Angeles Lakers employed a stifling defensive strategy to hold the Celtics scoreless during a 21-0 run in the third quarter, drastically altering a 67-53 Celtics’ lead into a 74-67 deficit.  Yet the Celtics refused to surrender, and the game — a 100-98 victory for LA — ended on a controversial whistle. Continue reading Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 43 vs. the Lakers

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 42 vs. the Hawks

Celtics (31-10) vs. Hawks (26-17)
January 11, 1980
Boston Garden

The Celtics hosted the Atlanta Hawks on this date thirty-three years ago in the Garden.  Winners of three of the past four, the Celts hoped to build some momentum on this marathon seven-game homestand at the Garden.  Sandwiched in-between an intense match-up with New York and a rematch with the Los Angeles Lakers stood the Atlanta Hawks.  Hubie Brown’s team of overachievers, on their way to a 50-win season, laid a 28-point beatdown on the Celtics the last time the two teams met.  The defeat also marked the Celtics’ only home loss of the season, with a 17-1 record nearly midpoint in the season.  A balanced attack from the Celtics’ starting five, as well as a breakout performance from Rick Robey, allowed the Celtics to avenge the loss and defeat the Hawks, 108-93.  The game also featured four ejections, all beginning near the end of the first quarter. Continue reading Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 42 vs. the Hawks