Gary Neville didn’t attend journalism school. He wasn’t educated in objectivity, ethics, research, balance or any of the other mantras ingrained upon the thousands and thousands of graduates every year. Yet oddly enough he practices the pillars of integrity better than most sports journalists, reporters and pundits alike.
Although you may not voice the same opinions as his, there is relief in knowing a sports commentator continues to uphold the ideals of journalism (trust me and this coming from a j-school student herself).
Now of course no one is without bias. It’s human to have specific leanings, but Neville is one of the few ex-player pundits who tries to not let his biases and relationships interfere with the majority of his analysis.
In today’s Guardian, Michael Cox argues Neville’s popularity lies in the following three factors: his attention to detail, his neutrality, and his willingness to challenge the status quo, values Cox acknowledges very few media personnel sadly follow.
Unlike Jamie Redknapp, for example, Neville isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade, even at the expense of his former teammates and friends. But this is exactly what makes Neville so sought after and unique. He puts his personal friendships and feelings aside and enters a zone of greater objectivity. It’s also refreshing to hear a former footballer criticize his past teammates. No one wants to hear the truth, but that’s exactly what Neville does. He does the ‘dirty work’ most pundits prefer to avoid (and even journalists out of fear of compromising relationships with athletes).
Cox goes on to explain what makes Neville so distinct:
In this respect, Redknapp’s fault is nothing more than being a nice man, and he’s become more critical, but at the start of his television career the situation was ludicrous. When analysing England’s Euro 2004 defeat to France, when England conceded a penalty courtesy of Steven Gerrard’s wayward backpass and David James’s clumsy challenge on Thierry Henry, Redknapp managed to blame Ashley Cole for not thumping the ball downfield. Both Gerrard and James, of course, had been Redknapp’s team-mates at Liverpool. Neville has avoided such partisanship, seemingly in spite of his coaching role with England.
Moreover, Neville has a natural gift for dissecting action on the field even some coaches and former players would have trouble in executing. He’s meticulous and balanced. He thinks before he speaks and he crafts his examples into pieces of art work. His recent analysis of the Stoke City goal illustrates this. It’s his ability to make the small details seem obvious in retrospect.
Perhaps, audiences want to hear the truth.
While we have yet to hear Neville criticize his brother (still waiting for that moment), at least we can be grateful that he has reached the standard of journalism to what it ought to be.
Cox sums it up best when he writes “… he has become universally popular for merely filling his job description.” Simple perhaps, but deeply difficult, and in Neville’s case worth the pause to notice.
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