Friday, February 1, 2008

Jemele Hill Creates another Argument to Refute

Way back when I wrote this piece on Jemele Hill’s insane Jordan vs. Bryant comparison, I noted the following:

I HATE when writers make arguments for themselves to counter like this. Jemele is the queen of that.

Jemele has since done this a couple other times, most recently in her column explaining why it’s okay that Randy Moss quit on the Raiders. You’ll see a couple of allusions to “many people” and “some” who’ve criticized the situation because Moss was supposed to be on the receiving end of bad karma. I read a fair amount of national sports writing. Honestly, this is not being played up. This is not an issue. Jemele is framing it as an issue so that she can dispel it, with a crazy conclusion that it’s okay to give up and collect huge paychecks for little effort. Vince Carter, you’re in the clear.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Normally, I don't condone athletes giving up. But in Randy Moss' case, he was right to quit on the Oakland Raiders.

So you don’t condone athletes giving up, but in a really high profile case of an athlete giving up, you’re not just okay with it…you think it was the right thing to do.

I bring this up because what happened with the Raiders continues to dog Moss' legacy, just as Kobe Bryant's seemingly self-imposed no-show against Phoenix in a deciding playoff game continues to indict him as a selfish player. Moss should be the No. 2 story of Super Bowl XLII. (Tom Brady is No. 1, of course.) But despite an impressive display of sincerity at Tuesday's media day, some people are still having trouble buying the new, wiser Randy Moss.

Are people really talking about this? I suppose, a little. But my question is; why wouldn’t it part of his legacy? Should we just ignore negatives and only remember positives? Can we forget this holocaust business and just remember how orderly and efficient Hitler was as a leader? Who says Moss should be the number 2 story of the Super Bowl? These are a few stories that should be bigger than Moss.

1.) A chance at 19-0.

2.) Patriots w/ a chance to win their 4th SB in 7 years. Same for Brady and Belichick, which is how QB’s and coaches are measured and puts them further into historically significant company.

3.) Eli Manning’s improbable late season performance and maturity. Manning making the Super Bowl a year after his brother.

4.) The Giants making the Super Bowl despite having to win 3 straight tough road playoff games. The Giants overall resurgence that seems to have started with the great Pats game in week 17.

In the eyes of fans and more than a few sportswriters, Moss playing for a Super Bowl ring upsets the balance of the sports universe.

“More than a few sportswriters”…..who? Name a few.

To many people, Moss is proof that sports karma doesn't always work. Despite giving a lackluster effort for much of his two years in Oakland, the stars aligned to send Moss to the best franchise of the millennium, which has put him one victory away from unprecedented history.

“Many people”. Name one. Who are you arguing with? The stars didn’t “align”; the Patriots took a chance that many other teams decided would not have taken. It's also not really putting "him" into history, but "the team", of which he is a part. Not wrong, but sort of different.

"I had to stay positive, but in the back of my mind, I didn't know if I would get here or not," Moss said.

I understand why Moss makes sports purists feel nauseated. He'd have probably stayed in the MVP conversation a bit longer had his Oakland days been further behind him. Fans will accept contract disputes, unproductive superstars, even lengthy championship droughts. But quitting on your team? That's always deemed unacceptable.

No no no. Moss isn’t in the MVP conversation because Tom Brady just quarterbacked a 16-0 team with arguably the best statistical passing season in history. That sort of defaults the MVP to him. I didn’t read one “the MVP is Moss, but I’m not voting for him because of the Oakland days” column. Who tolerates superstars being unproductive? Fans hate that!

Yet, on rare occasions, there are exceptions. And Moss' situation with Oakland is one of them. Because the Raiders quit on Moss just as much as he quit on them.

No they didn’t, because they kept paying him. Let’s make this real clear.

Randy Moss’ obligation: Play football hard, up to his potential. Earn his compensation.

Raiders’ obligation: Pay Randy Moss his compensation, per his contract.

One of these things happened, and one didn’t.

Moss always has been emotional, and it's no secret he has struggled with handling losing with dignity, as evidenced by his tantrums over the years. "I approached the game, when I was young, very angry," Moss said. "Not at anyone in particular, just the game of football."

When Moss fled to Oakland from Minnesota, there were high expectations, since the Raiders were only two seasons removed from playing in the Super Bowl and Moss was considered a great talent. But frustrating injuries limited Moss' effectiveness. And bad coaching, questionable play-calling, working alongside fellow malcontents such as Warren Sapp and Jerry Porter, and failures at quarterback -- all this amounted to a Molotov cocktail for Moss, which resulted in the perennial All-Pro becoming disinterested and loathed.

Some teams are not very good. Some teams almost always suck. There are players, sometimes star players, on those teams. It is their job to perform, even if the team sucks. This is not hard. Michael Jordan never quit on the ’85 Bulls because they were a bunch of druggy unprofessionals. Magic Johnson disliked Paul Westhead, but he still played hard for him.

"I'm a football player," Moss said. "That's what I do. Things really weren't going like I expected them to go. Not as an individual, but as a team. We had Derrick Burgess, Warren Sapp, a lot of guys that have names throughout this league. Expectations were high. Football wasn't a main priority around there."

Warren Sapp didn’t make Randy Moss drop those passes.

How Moss handled things certainly was immature. But can anyone honestly blame him for feeling the way he did? People who hate their jobs don't give their all -- that's a simple reality. And usually the biggest reason people hate their jobs is because they aren't being inspired or developed.

I can’t blame Moss for feeling the way he did, but I can blame him for playing the way he did. Moss has a bunch of excuses for not performing well in Oakland, but one of them is not that it was okay to stop trying. That’s a terrible message.

Let’s do a little play:

Jemele Hill: “Jemele Jr. can I see your report card?”

Jemele Jr.: “Here you go Mom, I got 4 A’s and 1 F”

Jemele Hill: “An F! Why? What happened?”

Jemele Jr: “Well, there are some popular kids in the class, but they are not good students, so I stopped thinking that was important. Also, the teacher didn’t really inspire me that much. Mostly, I just wasn’t happy with how everyone around me was performing, so I stopped trying. Our class, as a whole, wasn’t succeeding, so why should I try? I knew the material, I could have gotten A’s, but I didn’t want to try."

Jemele Hill: “Sounds good to me, here’s your allowance!”

Looking at the debacle the Raiders franchise has become -- and the wheels were in motion before Moss arrived -- is it unreasonable Moss wouldn't put it all on the line for that dysfunctional franchise? Just look at the problems the Raiders are having now with head coach Lane Kiffin, who seems to be lashing out the same way Moss did.

Put it all on the line = play football hard? Yes. Yes it’s perfectly reasonable to think he would do that. You act like they were asking him to secure Taliban occupied caves in Afghanistan with a bunch of 10 year old cub scouts. They were asking him to play football, and they were paying him to play football.

A gross amount of money and an excess of athletic ability doesn't prohibit athletes from feeling the same frustrations regular people feel. Moss was no different than the 9-to-5 guy who can't stand his idiotic boss.

But that guy still tries! I’ve been that guy! I still tried! I wasn’t making millions of dollars a year either.

Years ago, when Barry Sanders retired from the Detroit Lions via fax machine, a large number of Lions fans were angry at what they perceived to be a betrayal. Sanders never shorted his effort on the field, though he did pout at times. But he left the Lions soon after receiving an $11 million signing bonus and the biggest contract of his career. Many fans felt he should have stuck it out. But Sanders later admitted he retired as a healthy 30-year-old because he felt the Lions would never win. And to think, Sanders thought that way about the Lions before the Matt Millen era was in full swing.

But, see, that’s okay (assuming he refunded the portion of his signing bonus that hadn’t vested) because Sanders, as you note, CONTINUED TO TRY, DESPITE HIS TEAM SUCKING. This is evidence for the exact opposite point you are making. All the excuses that Moss has, Sanders had, but he never let it excuse him from putting in the effort. So thank you for…proving…you...wrong.

Sanders knew he was too good to play for an organization that bad. He might have handled his situation more maturely than Moss, but ultimately they both realized their talent was far too great to be controlled by people who didn't know how to win.

But….he handled it…..the opposite way?!?!?! So that’s not good for your argument, right?

That's why, when Moss said Tuesday he wanted to retire as a Patriot, I believed him. Call Moss a front-runner, but he essentially wants what all great players want: to play for an organization dedicated not only to winning, but to fostering his ability. Just ask Archie Manning if he would rather be known for nobly sticking it out with the struggling New Orleans Saints, or finishing as a champion.

Ask Archie Manning if he wishes he could go back in time and quit on his football team, because he was unhappy. I think he’ll say no. Nowhere is it written that each excellent professional athelte deserves to get, or will ever get, a shot at a team championship.

Of course, Moss should be held accountable for his actions in Oakland (and Minnesota). But it shouldn't define his career, or be the reason people root against him in Sunday's Super Bowl. Moss has atoned for his behavior in Oakland, and it's obvious the Raiders had bigger problems than him.

Again, this is a defense of an argument that is not being made.

Now, if you want to root against Moss because of his recent alleged domestic violence incident, or his other brushes with the law, that's fine. But getting indignant about Moss quitting on Oakland, given the reputation of that franchise, is like being upset if someone is unfaithful to Britney Spears.

Britney Spears, really? Really? Fucking really Jemele? I hate the sportswriter mindset that if I just throw an analogy to Britney Spears or Paris Hilton…then the point is made. Can’t you use something more fresh, like Hitler? That guy is on fire on TMZ.

Besides, Moss has made far more careers than he has destroyed. What was Daunte Culpepper without Moss? What about Brian Billick, who built a reputation for being an offensive genius because he coached Moss in Minnesota? Pre-Moss, people still had their doubts about whether Tom Brady was a great quarterback or just the product of a great system. No one says that anymore. With Moss, Brady became an MVP, and is in line to be regarded as the best quarterback of all time.

I'd say sports karma is working just fine.

This paragraph is in defense of Randy Moss’ abilities as a football player and his performance in Minnesota and New England. Something that no one is criticizing! No one is really talking all the much about how he played in Oakland either, but if they were, then pointing out how great he was in Minnesota and New England would only support their claim that he was dogging it and that’s not “right”. Again, this hurts, not helps, your point.

This does explain a lot of Jemele’s output though.

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