Most of today’s professional athletes grew up with ESPN. Teams have become increasingly savvy about the use of social media and have entire public relations departments to help spread good will in the community.
So how is it that the likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco don’t understand how it sounds when they get defensive about their own team’s draft picks?
In a radio interview, Roethlisberger questioned the Pittsburgh Steelers’ decision to draft quarterback Mason Rudolph with a third-round pick:
“Nothing against Mason — I think he’s a great football player. I don’t know him personally, but I’m sure he’s a great kid,” Roethlisberger told 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh on Friday. “I just don’t know how backing up or being a third-[stringer] — well, who knows where he’s going to fall on the depth chart — helps us win now. But, you know, that’s not my decision to make. That’s on the coaches and the GM and the owner and those kind of things. If they think he can help our team, so be it, but I was a little surprised.”
On the other side of the NFL’s biggest rivalry, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco said even more by saying much less, opting not to answer questions after his team nabbed Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson in the first round. The Ravens were complicit in his silence.
Professional athletes, like top performers in any field, need a competitive edge that most people don’t have. Beyond that, anyone who has done excellent work for their employer for several years wants to enjoy some measure of job security. But unlike most people, Roethlisberger and Flacco routinely get microphones shoved in their faces for comments on their job.
It isn’t hard to know exactly what to say here. Any of the following will do:
- “Everyone we draft has the chance to make us a better team.”
- “I’m looking forward to playing with [GUY THE TEAM JUST DRAFTED TO TAKE MY JOB]. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned during my time in the league, and I bet I could learn something from him, too.”
- “Hey, I’ll do anything to help the team win. I’ll start, I’ll line up at wideout, I’ll kick, I’ll carry water, I don’t care as long as we win the Super Bowl.”
It’s not hard. Boring? Sure, but the fans love that. Derek Jeter spent two decades feeding boring to the New York press and they practically built a golden idol of him outside Yankee Stadium when he retired. (He’s had some interesting times in Miami, and interesting isn’t going so well for him.) The New York Giants brain trust of coach Ben McAdoo and General Manager Jerry Reese benched Eli Manning last year. While it was obvious Manning wasn’t a fan of the decision, he wisely remained relatively quiet after it was made. Of course, he didn’t have to: Everyone who followed football knew the move was idiotic and said so.
Squeaky wheels don’t always get greased, either. Neither Reese nor McAdoo finished the season with the Giants; Manning is locked in as next season’s starter.
Come to think of it, the only time Manning had real controversy in his career happened on his own draft day, when he very publicly made it known he wasn’t interested in being a San Diego Charger. Notably, though, Manning himself has always refused to give any reason for what prompted his trade demand.
Typically, the less an athlete says (or implies), the better. Maybe that’s boring, but boring is a much better look than the defensive jealousy brewing right now in Pittsburgh and Baltimore.