NFL Critics Suffer from Unsubstantiated Scapegoat Syndrome (U.S.S.)

Ryan MichaelSenior Writer IIINovember 8, 2016

For as long as I can recall, I have seen NFL critics continue to pass judgment while criticizing NFL players for various actions that they feel contribute to the detriment of their teams.

No matter how illogical their accusations can be at times, many have continued to adopt a common misconception that has plagued the minds of NFL fans for far too long.

Now, this misconception has been diagnosed and it is that diagnosis that I would like to help define. I would like to refer to it as...


Unsubstantiated Scapegoat Syndrome (U.S.S.)

1. The process by which a critic, analyst, or fan directs blame in the direction of a player(s) for a team's hardships or failure to reach expectations.

2. Such blame is given without the presence of substantiated evidence to support the theory and a failure to outline (in detail) exactly how such criticized actions do direct harm to the team involved, often times to the extent in which the player does more harm to the team than the good that is contributed as a result of his productivity.

3. Such a belief is rapidly popularized to the point in which it becomes adopted by a substantial sum of people and then becomes widely-recognized as being factual.


Instances regarding this misconceived belief often occur when blame is directed towards those who play the wide receiver position, although this issue is not exclusive to any one position.

Take Terrell Owens for instance.

Many people have criticized his actions over the years but I would like to focus on what has been recent by taking a look back to the end of his stint with the Dallas Cowboys.

Instances in which Owens had made himself vocal regarding his belief of an unfair distribution of passes is probably the biggest issue that came to light.

To briefly summarize, he felt as though Tony Romo was intentionally directing more passes towards Jason Witten which in-turn reduced Owens' productivity.

Regardless as to how accurate Owens' assessment of the situation was, I don't see how he is guilty of much beyond being paranoid.

It also wasn't as though he made the issue public, it managed to leak beyond team walls to the extent in which it became a popularized issue.

The word "distraction" has become quite common in such instances.

Critics feel as though the action(s) of the player in question create a distraction that prevents the team from reaching their full potential. They feel as though it disrupts chemistry which would account for why teams the caliber of the 2007-08 Dallas Cowboys managed to fall short of expectations.

Now, it is quite easy to say that various actions are those of a disruptive nature. The greater issue is that these critics often fail to substantiate their claims.

In Owens' instance, it is easy to simply say that because he became vocal and voiced displeasure, the team began to fall apart at the seam.

But that does not detail the impact his actions had upon his teammates.

When we are talking about professional football players, we are talking about men who have to worry about their individual performance on the field, their wives, their children, their mortgages, and any other hardship you would expect a man to go through.

To imply that a certain player running their mouth affects the performance of other players on the field is a futile statement if it fails to be substantiated to a reasonable extent.

For instance, I could say that Tom Brady's romantic life (which seems to be the focus of tabloids everywhere) is a distraction to his teammates; therefore media circus that surrounded him prior to Super Bowl XLII was a cause for the Patriots loss to the Giants.

I could make that statement which on paper, might appear to make a degree of sense but without doing anything to substantiate it, the argument doesn't hold much weight.

You see, there is nothing easier than saying a person's actions are distractive to the point in which it effects chemistry but that doesn't mean the accusation has any basis in reality.

To many within the media, it just has to sound good.

Another example would be the remarks Skip Bayless made regarding Chad Ochocinco on the Sept. 8 episode of ESPN's 1st and 10.

Bayless blamed Chad's alleged focus on himself and entertaining the fans as a reason why he was incapable of leading the Bengals to the playoffs.

Again, that sounds good on paper but was never substantiated with any evidence.

Why would a critic or analyst blame one player (often times a very productive one) for the failures of an entire team?

Because it is much easier to blame one individual player than it would be to blame an entire offensive or defensive unit along with the coaches that prepare them.

Vocal players are often the subjects of harsh criticism because people love to remain politically correct and find a simple answer to what is (in most cases), a complicated issue.

I cannot recall how many times that I have heard that a specific player was a "distraction" that has "held their team down" but with as many times as such examples have been given, you almost never hear anyone provide an explanation as to how the actions of the individual in question impacted their teammates.

Simply saying that he "disrupted the teams chemistry" and was a "distraction" does not say much of anything and certainly lacks the detail required to make a valid point.

Since they clearly cannot criticize these players' performance on the field, they instead try to attack aspects that cannot be proven or disproven, but sound as though they could be true.

If you see such instances occur in high frequency, you are likely being exposed to someone who suffers from U.S.S.

It is not as though these people are intentionally trying to deceive.

In many instances, such criticism produces a quick answer to a complicated issue while at the same time, does not have to criticize any large majority of people which might complicate the issue further.

After all, it's easier to solve a problem with one player than it is to correct an entire group of those who fail to perform on the field.

That is why we see the Chad Ochocinco's of the world criticized far more than the Cincinnati Bengals' defensive unit.

That is why we see Head Coaches being shipped out one by one instead of seeing a roster re-configuration.

It’s easier that way.

In some cases it's hate, in others it's ignorance.

But the end result is the same.

So long as misconceptions such as these continue to be fed to the masses of people who turn to the "experts" for their expert analyses, we will continue to see instances such as this spread across the sporting world to the extent in which it becomes adopted as factual.

That might not bother most people, but that appears to be the problem.


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