It almost never fails. Nearly every single time that someone in sports says something that even has a hint of controversy, they eventually wind up going out and releasing some sort of statement to cover their butt. They try to defuse the controversy so that it doesn’t become a distraction. It happens almost every single time. And it ticks me off.
The latest to try the old ‘CYA’ trick is Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. Harbaugh did a radio interview this week with a local station in Baltimore and had this to say about the New England Patriots and their three Super Bowl victories.
“In the end, everything is brought before the light of day, when it’s all said and done,” Harbaugh said on “98 Rock” in Baltimore. “What happens, even the thing in New England, no matter whether those things had any impact on whether they won their championships or not, they got asterisks now. It’s been stained.
“To me, it’s never worth it. You have to figure out ways to use the rules to your advantage; you have to figure out ways to make the most of everything. We have new work rules here as far as what we can do and what we can’t do with our players, and we’re going to make the most of it. What we’re finding is, ‘Man, maybe we can do some things even better than we did before, because these rules make us focus more on some things that we didn’t focus on before.’ You just have to make them work for you. That’s what success is in the world. You have to find a way to do things better than somebody else. But if you’re cheating, in the end, you’re going to get discredited. It’s not worth it.”
The statements, of course, were immediately posted online. Predictably, Patriots fans did not take kindly to what Harbaugh had to say. It only took a couple of hours, but Harbaugh wound up releasing a statement ‘clarifying’ the comments he made during the radio interview.
“While on the 98 Rock show this morning to talk about the run to honor O.J. Brigance and raise funds for ALS research, I answered a question about playing within the rules and referred to the perception that the Super Bowl championships won by the Patriots and Saints have a stain. My reference was to the perception out there that came as the result of the league’s actions,” Harbaugh said in the statement.
“I could have been more clear that I was referring to those viewpoints. I totally believe that the Patriot and Saint coaches and players earned those championships. Bill [Belichick] and Sean [Payton] both know that.”
When the first statements Harbaugh made came out, I actually was happy that someone in the NFL had the stones to come out and say it. I really was. I may not agree with what Harbaugh said in the interview (which is an entirely different conversation), but I give him credit for having an opinion and putting it out there.
However, Harbaugh came out with his ‘clarification,’ and I went from being happy to being disappointed. It reeked of spin. It smelled like someone (and I don’t know who) told the coach that he got himself into a hot mess and now had to do everything he could to get out of it.
This is not the first time something like this has happened in professional sports and it certainly won’t be the last. But I wonder how many of you are just like me. I wonder how many of you just want a guy to say something and then have the strength to stand by what he said.
I am sick and tired of players, coaches and executives doing this. Just once – JUST ONE TIME – I would like someone (whether it’s an athlete, coach or team executive) to say something and stick by it. It would be a refreshing change of pace. It would be something I could respect.
I would love to see someone say something controversial and then, when asked about those statements, to simply say that he isn’t going to back down from what he said. I want that person to own what he said. I want that person to say, “Yes I said it. I wasn’t misquoted. Those comments weren’t taken out of context. I am not going back on what I said. It’s my opinion. You can agree or disagree with what I said, but at the end of the day I am not backing off of those comments.”
The first guy in this internet age of sports media, where everything that is said is disseminated within a matter of moments, to do that will earn my respect. Unfortunately I don’t think that is going to happen anytime soon.
Too many of these guys have too much to lose. They are afraid of losing the fans. They are afraid of losing endorsements. They are afraid of what their teammates and other players will think of them. They all have people in their ear (whether it’s a PR hack or an agent) telling them what to say and what to do.
I long for the day when an athlete, coach or team executive has the courage to stand by what they put out there, no matter how controversial it might be. No matter whom they might offend.
I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I would bet that it will be a long time before we see someone own up to anything controversial that might come out of their mouths.