The Media Column: Sycophantic NFL press still protects the Shield on domestic violence

Alex Reimer
December 06, 2018 - 11:12 am

USA Today Sports

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The sycophantic NFL media covers the issue of domestic violence better than it once did. When Ray Rice was first suspended for two games, Adam Schefter said his sources were wondering whether commissioner Roger Goodell was “lenient enough” with the running back who knocked out his fiancee in an elevator. Now, when TMZ releases video of Kareem Hunt kicking a woman in the hallway of his residence, Schefter calls the situation a “mess” for the NFL –– while saying he’s confident the league will do the “right thing.”

In 2014, “Monday Night Football” bootlickers Chris Berman and Trent Dilfer praised the NFL and Ravens for their “swift” response to the Rice fiasco. This Monday, Jason Witten lambasted the Redskins for signing Reuben Foster three days after his second domestic violence arrest in nine months. The topic didn’t come up, however, until late in the fourth quarter. 

Baby steps, I guess. 

There’s been widespread condemnation of the NFL’s negligent handling of the Hunt case –– they never interviewed him, despite speaking with 66 witnesses during the interminable Deflategate investigation –– with sports columnists across the country filing searing pieces that get lots of retweets. The Herald’s Karen Guregian and Globe’s Tara Sullivan each wrote one of those stories for their respective papers, saying the episode shows the NFL still doesn’t seem to care whether its players beat up women. 

But those closer to the Shield remain eager to protect it, or at least share its side of the story. NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport was the first to report Friday night the NFL had not seen the Hunt video until it was published that afternoon. “I’m told the league made several attempts to obtain it,” he tweeted. “The hotel said it was corporate policy to only turn it over to law enforcement. Cleveland PD would not provide it to the league.”

Saints tight end Benjamin Watson immediately challenged Rapoport, saying the NFL’s explanation was “really hard to believe.” Rapoport explained he received confirmation from “all sides.”

If that’s the case, it’s understandable why Rapoport would share that nugget with the masses. He’s an NFL Insider, and his sources around the league were saying they were ignorant of the video. It’s not his job to opine. He’s just there to report the facts, as told to him by 32 NFL teams and the commissioner’s office. 

As Mark Leibovich outlines in “Big Game,” ubiquitous NFL Insiders like Schefter and Rapoport seldom, if ever, go into locker rooms. Schefter says the only game he ever attends is the Super Bowl, where he was once seen embracing Bill Belichick on the sidelines before kick off. 

The idealistic version of journalism that schmucks like yours truly pay $200,000 to learn at fine private institutions across this great nation is about how reporters are supposed to hold the powerful accountable. That is the opposite of what NFL Insiders do. Their sources are the powerful. Always keep that in mind. 

But at least Schefty, Rapsheet and Co. have a reason to publicize the company line. They trade information and get to break big stories. It’s harder to figure out why removed observers like Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg –– yes, the game guy who wrote the story about the Patriots allegedly giving opposing teams warm Gatorade –– protect the Shield for no payoff. Rosenberg published an article about how the Rice and Hunt incidents aren’t similar, because the NFL knew what Rice did. The league says it didn’t know about Hunt, so there’s “no evidence the NFL failed.” 

Rosenberg neglects to mention the NFL didn’t interview Hunt, leaving that job to the Chiefs. Kansas City released Hunt Friday. The team says Hunt lied to them. 

Towards the end of the article, Rosenberg’s sycophancy climaxes when he says Goodell “has made some well-documented mistakes, but is not an idiot.” 

The man who lost to Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson in court disagrees. Maybe Rosenberg is talking about some other guy.

The NFL, due to its obsession with controlling the media, will always be able to insulate itself from the latest brewing firestorm. Look no further than Peterson. Two weeks ago, he admitted in an interview that he still beats his children. The question hasn’t been broached since then, though the MNF crew found plenty of time to celebrate “All-Day’s” 90-yard touchdown run. 

More than most other corporations, the NFL almost always comes away financially unscathed from these administrative disasters. Perhaps that’s largely because their PR department is so widespread.

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Patriots ratings dominance even greater than imagined: Everyone knows the Patriots are dominant in the ratings, but check this out: Vikings-Patriots, the highest-rated game of the season to date, drew a (slightly) better share than the clinching Game 5 of the World Series.

In fact, Patriots regular season games account for seven of the 10 most-watched shows in Boston since the Super Bowl, with Games 1 and 5 of the World Series representing the only non-Patriots items on the list. (Oddly enough, the pregame show for Game 5 finished seventh, ahead of all other World Series affairs.)

With the way Patriots ratings have ticked upwards this season, expect their matchup against the Steelers Dec. 16 at 4:25 p.m. to be their highest-rated showing yet, and overtake Game 5 as the most-watched Boston TV event since February. 

Let’s *gulp* give Mike Lombardi credit on Gronk: Mike Lombardi said on his podcast in late September that Rob Gronkowski had lost his burst. The timing of Lombardi’s comments were mocked, because it was reported the Patriots wanted to trade Gronk to the Lions just days earlier.

But as it turns out, Lombardi was right. Now everybody is saying Gronk looks like he’s near the end. Hell, Tom Curran even guaranteed Gronkowski won’t play for the Patriots next season. 

Score one for Belichick’s buddy.

Mike Silver gets NFL Media Purple Heart of Courage: I spent the bulk of this column mocking  NFL Insiders for their obsequience, so allow me to praise one for speaking out against The Man. After all, I am fair.

NFL Media’s Mike Silver condemned the Redskins on Twitter this week for signing Foster while continuing to ignore Colin Kaepernick. “When you claim Reuben Foster but won’t consider @Kaepernick7 ... you’ve told us, organizationally, where you stand,” he wrote. “So don’t whine when people pummel you for it.”

Bravo.

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