There's a bit of a brouhaha brewing between the New York Jets and the media that covers the team.
The friction comes from a rule that the Jets must hold an end-of-season press conference within a week of the season finale, per the NFL's media policy.
There are many layers to this debate, so here's what happened, with a look at where the two sides have gone wrong.
The Timeline of Events
The season ended with a 28-9 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. The Jets had scheduled Rex Ryan to speak on Monday afternoon at 4:45. Sometime shortly after the firing of general manager Mike Tannenbaum, Jets owner Woody Johnson released a statement about Tannenbaum's release and the status of Ryan as head coach for 2013.
The Jets then canceled the press conference, and did not reschedule until Wednesday afternoon. By that point, Rex Ryan had already left for the Bahamas.
The media took their grievances to the Pro Football Writers of America, who then lodged a complaint with the NFL, although what exactly they were trying to accomplish with that complaint remains unclear.
Whatever it was, it doesn't matter, because the PFWA came out with an announcement on Thursday (via Twitter) that said the following:
The PFWA is satisfied that the New York Jets are following the spirit of the rules in making their executives available on Tuesday. There is good reason for the NFL’s rule requiring teams to make a top executive available to communicate with the fans through the media within seven days after the end of the season. After discussing the circumstances with the Jets, we look forward to hearing from owner Woody Johnson and coach Rex Ryan on Tuesday.
Now that we've sufficiently outlined what went down, blow-for-blow, let's take a look at the two sides of the argument.
I do not know the writers personally, so this is not meant as a personal attack. I also do not see how they work every day, so this is not a professional attack, either. I never claimed to be a beacon of journalism ethics. I avoid the battle to be the first to report something. When news happens, I share my thoughts. Heck, my use of "I" just broke one of the main rules of journalism five times in five sentences.
That, they say, is the reporter making him or herself part of the story. That is exactly what some members of the Jets media have done of late.
The story is no longer that the Jets won't talk; the story has now become that the media is upset that the Jets won't talk.
Their frustrations are understandable; they have a job to do, and there are still several unanswered questions about the future of the Jets:
- Who will replace Mike Tannenbaum?
- Will the next general manager be empowered to make a decision on the immediate future of Rex Ryan?
- What does the future hold for Tony Sparano, who was reportedly on the chopping block as of last week?
- Who will take Mike Pettine's place as defensive coordinator after he reportedly turned down a contract extension?
- Is Tim Tebow a part of the plan in 2013?
- How much power will Rex have in personnel decisions going forward?
- What does the long-term future hold for Darrelle Revis?
- How will the Jets handle one of the worst quarterback salaries in the NFL in Mark Sanchez's $8.25 million salary for 2013?
- How does Rex not being involved in the search for a general manager impact his power as head coach?
All of these are legitimate questions that remain unanswered while the team apparently ducks the media, but the problem is that none of those questions (except maybe the last one) can be truly answered until the Jets find their next general manager.
There may be other questions to be asked:
- What areas can Stephen Hill improve to be a more consistent playmaker in the future?
- How much of an impact does a player like LaRon Landry have on the defense?
- Where does Demario Davis need to improve to get more opportunities on Sundays?
- Why did several young players not get more opportunities to play down the stretch, when the season was already out of hand?
But given the nature of the questions the media has asked all season long, what are the odds of any of those questions being asked at an end-of-season press conference?
It's almost certain that the media would sooner ask the questions they know they won't get answers to (the first set of bullet points) than they'd ask any of the questions that diehard fans want to know the answers to (second set of bullet points). This is the same media group that failed to ask a single question about the San Diego Chargers in the week leading up to that game.
I could be wrong but I don't think Rex fielded a question specific to the Chargers all week.— Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) December 21, 2012
If you'll recall, that was the game where Rex Ryan finally made the decision to start a quarterback besides Mark Sanchez, but went with Greg McElroy instead of Tebow. That makes it easier to understand how a subject as "meaningless" (as it was put to me by one reporter) as the game being played on Sunday.
Even if the game doesn't matter to the team's playoff chances, it matters to the fans of the team—who also happen to be the readers—and the players and coaches who are still playing and coaching for their jobs.
This all stems from the notion that the media are acting as bastions for the fans, as purveyors of great insight, as if that's been their role all season long.
There will be some value in hearing the details of the state of the organization straight from the top men in the organization, but there aren't enough clear answers to be given, to make such a big deal out of it. The PFWA may have made their announcement and decision based on that very facet of the situation.
What's interesting is that now, some of the same reporters that were blasting the team for talking too much have now taken to blasting the team for not talking.
One more thing: the media is upset that the fans have revolted on them, but this has been a long time coming. The media has burned up its good will by focusing more on TMZ stories than actual football.
I do not work with the Jets public relations staff on any level, except that I'm on mailing lists that give me access to press releases, press conference transcripts and roster moves.
To say that the end-of-season fiasco could have been handled better, though, would be a dramatic understatement.
Who could blame Rex for wanting to leave cold, snowy New Jersey for a trip to the Bahamas? Who could blame him for wanting a vacation after a grueling 17-week season? Who could blame him for wanting to get away from a media contingency that has had him under siege the entire season?
Well, you can blame them all you want, actually, for two reasons:
- They're violating a rule that they had to have known was a rule (even if most of us commonfolk didn't), and
- They have made themselves look awfully bad in doing so.
No matter whose side you're on, it looks bad that the Jets haven't said a word in public (besides a rather robotic press release) about a general manager who worked for the company for 15 years.
No matter whose side you're on, it looks worse that the head coach is in the Bahamas while major organizational business is being conducted in a GM search that could greatly impact the future of the team.
The perception around the Jets did not land there by mistake, osmosis or a perpetual myth. It landed there through years of the Jets speaking first and asking questions later.
Whatever the intention—whether it was to keep Rex quiet, avoid answering the tough questions or simply not having enough answers to make it a worthwhile process for them—the Jets under Rex have preached transparency and not putting a muzzle on anyone. The fact that everything is suddenly so veiled and no one is talking gives writers reason to have their ears perked up in wonder.
While it's ironic that the team was getting blasted for talking by some of the same folks now blasting them for not talking, it's telling that the Jets did so much talking in their first three years and only this year, while stumbling to a humbling 6-10 finish, did they finally stop talking so much.
In the end, I'm not taking sides.
The Jets made some major mistakes by messing with the media, but if the media chooses to continue to make this personal, their credibility hangs in the balance and is in increasing danger of plummeting back to Earth and falling with a merciless thud.
Either way, I'll have my popcorn ready for next Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET.
This could be a pay-per-view, if only we could get Don King involved.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.