It’s remarkable how often we expect our athletes and coaches to be both interesting, and robotic. We want them to entertain us, and in the NFL, they do that every Sunday during the fall and winter, and even during the spring when we can catch fleeting glimpses of them in shorts and read utterly meaningless stats which attempt to quantify their performance during practice (PRACTICE).
When they speak publicly, we want them to be interesting and compelling, but not too interesting and compelling. A few years ago we were free to laugh at Rex Ryan whenever we pleased because his teams won football games. Now Ryan is often still the same goofball/cornball in press conferences, but we’re not permitted to chortle because he’s not leading a winning team. He must now be boring, like Bill Belichick.
At its core, NFL football is no different from any other professional sport in that it’s entertainment, and a digression from the mundane nature of other daily events. It’s entertainment which generates much discourse and analytical debate, but the core element of televised sports — an activity which is organized purely for our enjoyment — remains nonetheless.
That’s why what happened in Philadelphia yesterday during a time of general nothingness in the NFL calendar was as confusing as it was predictable.
Just as they have been throughout the offseason, the Eagles’ quarterbacks have been the central talking point around the team, especially with new head coach Chip Kelly sculpting his new offense. Relentlessly, each quarterback who’s competing for the top job — Michael Vick, Nick Foles, and to a lesser extent, Matt Barkley — has been asked about their view on the matter, and how they’ve fared.
Their answers have usually been of the bland and boiler plate variety, often talking about their lack of control over Kelly’s decision, and that their focus has to remain on the field (this is almost exactly what Foles said yesterday). That is truthful and logical. But the moment a player in such a situation verbalizes even a slight deviation from the norm, there’s rebellion and critical questioning from the beat writers who were seeking something entertaining, and something interesting. While doing so, they also remind the subject that their words can and will be used against them.
Vick ignited this cycle yesterday when he made the mistake of straying from a company line, and being open and candid. Essentially, he erred when he supplied those present with exactly what they desired: something notable.
When Vick was asked about his stance on splitting first-team reps with Foles, this was his response:
“It’s tough. I have to continue to be a professional and put my feelings and emotions to the side, and just continue to compete. But it’s hard. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t, but that’s just what I have to deal with, and I’m going to keep dealing with it until I see otherwise.”
That’s honest and real. Expecting Vick to enjoy splitting reps and enjoy not being the definitive starter at his position is also expecting him to be passive and just fine thanks with a reduced role. So, he did what most humans would probably do after being asked the same version of a question over a period of several months: he gave a different, and very honest answer.
He may have also let his guard down, allowing his annoyance with the repetition to influence his response to the line of questioning. Despite being well aware that Kelly won’t name a starting quarterback until training camp when he sees his players in pads for the first time, Vick openly expressed his desire to have the situation settled before then.
“Hopefully, Chip makes a decision before training camp and we won’t have to answer questions. So we can go out there as quarterbacks and just focus on this season and not answer questions about competition every day.”
Again, here’s a moment of honesty, with Vick verbalizing a belief that Foles undoubtedly has too, even though it may not be realistic. He wants to stop having to hear and answer the same questions repeatedly, so much that he told CSNPhilly that he won’t answer them any more at all. This silence, apparently, will increase tension which already exists naturally during a competition between two inherently intense athletes.
Dodging questions about the No. 1 theme of training camp could potentially bring some criticism his way, from media and fans. Many of Vick’s teammates will also be asked to weigh in on the race.
Vick isn’t concerned about any backlash that may come from being selective with questions he will answer.
“Why not? Who cares?” he said. “Y’all [in the media] kill me anyway, whether it’s right or wrong.”
Vick’s right. He can’t win here, as a deeper meaning beyond his desire to a) be a starting quarterback in the NFL and b) not repeatedly answer the same questions and navigate his way through the same routine needs to be found. Rich Hofmann went on his own valiant search, and arrived at this conclusion:
So you wonder what’s really going on here. It was a little thing, but still oddly discordant. Now, there is the business about sharing reps and wanting a quick decision. Is Vick insulted that he has to compete for the job? Is he worried that he might not win the competition? Only he knows what he is thinking, but it is fascinating to wonder.
It is, Rich. And that fascination keeps a narrative chugging (Michael Vick is PISSED) while those who have a negative opinion of the quarterback are given what they want when their viewpoint is justified. They’re entertained, because the athlete was too entertaining when he should have been boring.
It’s an odd and confusing dance, and it reminds me of this nugget in Spencer Hall’s recent rant when he detailed the reasons why the current state of NFL reporting mostly sucks, and sucks a lot:
The NFL’s labor structure discourages players from saying anything remotely interesting. The league’s lack of guaranteed contracts–and the interchangeable parts of its teams–create serious negative incentive to talk, stick out, be interesting in the least, or even cough in an interesting manner around reporters. Players are more easily replaced in a 32-team league with 53-man rosters, and literally less valuable.
This will always be true if being open and candid is punished.