I have never been shy about the fact that I do not consider myself a member of the Bay Area sports media. Even if I eventually "get discovered" and earn an actual living doing this someday, I will still disassociate myself from that fold.
The fact of the matter is that—with the notable and exclusive exceptions of Joe Starkey, Gary Plumber, Dan Rusanowsky, Jamie Baker, Drew Remenda, and Randy Hahn—the Bay Area media is a group for which I have trifling little respect and a great deal of disdain and ire for.
The late great Bill Walsh was 100 percent correct and justified in his highly public and fervently impassioned distrust and disdain for the local media in his days as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. The local media was indeed nearly always "out to get" the red and gold.
When the team lost, they were cast as a disgrace—unable to live up to their mammoth potential despite having every advantage. Often times, they assumed the role of the evil giant vanquished by the heroic though outmatched foot soldier.
When they won, there was always some surefire sign somewhere in the game that stood as a clear indication of struggles ahead. What would have been simple position battles on other NFL squads automatically ballooned into enormous and distracting controversies—"certain" to lead to downfall and disappointment.
It thus came as quite a shock this spring and summer when the local talking heads seemed to finally be giving the 49ers some credit, and even more befuddling, wishing them well along with most of the rest of the national media.
That lasted about one week into training camp, but now the vaunted Bay Area media is up to its old tricks, and making up for lost time.
It all started with the gross exaggeration of what nearly everyone described as a horrible practice on Monday morning. Given head coach Mike Singletary's reactions in the mid-day press conference, I fully believe that execution and polish may have been lacking, but he seemed far too level-headed to validate the dismal reports throughout the papers and websites that day.
Former Super Bowl-winning cornerback Eric Davis had a decidedly different take on the practice. He described it in an article seen on the 49ers official website as being more a case where the defense outperformed the offense than one where play across the board was overly lacking. Since he's a guy who for the better part of a decade took reps on that very same practice field, I would tend to trust Davis's assessment.
Then came Kentwan Balmer. He was away from the team on excused leave for "personal matters" Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday it had become unexcused. Within hours, rumors were flying around like Montana to Rice touchdown passes in Super Bowl XXIV.
News broke that Balmer had given two former University of North Carolina teammates money for plane tickets to join the 49ers for a conditioning camp in 2009, while they were both still playing at UNC.
Various reports, including one from the San Francisco Chronicle, made not so subtle implications that the "personal matters" pertained to this alleged NCAA offense, and that Balmer was in the dog house of an infuriated Coach Sing—on the verge of being cut.
Another controversy was brewing as well. Balmer was clearly not Coach Sing's type of player, considering his apparent tampering. How could the team deal with such a distraction?
This "theory" was supposedly corroborated by Coach Sing's comments saying that the team was "moving on," the team's decision to work out another undisclosed defensive end on Wednesday, and finally the waiver of linebacker Scott McKillop to "make room" for Balmer's replacement.
Pretty convincing, right? Not really.
Examination of this concoction in the light of reality and logic reveals it for the fabrication and propaganda that it is.
Firstly, there is no verification that Balmer ever funded the tickets as the allegations claim, as even the uber-conservative NCAA violations committee has yet to verify the claims. Even if he did, there is no guarantee and not even much likelihood he was acting on behalf of the 49ers in extending the gesture.
Secondly, Coach Sing and the team did nothing to indicate even agitation at Balmer's absence, much less anger. Coach Sing acted in exactly the same way he did during the much more significant and legitimate Michael Crabtree drama of a year ago. He said he would focus on the players who were in camp and the team would move forward regardless of his absence.
The fact that the team worked out another defensive end (and today signed defensive tackle Will Tukuafu) simply means they are covering their bases. They do not know if or when Balmer will return and in the mean time, they need to keep a full roster.
Scott McKillop's waiver is no conspiratorial connection either. He is expected to miss the entire season with a torn ACL and patellar tendon, and with mounting injuries across the roster and the absence of Balmer and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, roster spots are precious.
The team cannot afford to hold a roster spot open for a player who will not contribute in 2010, and McKillop needs to clear waivers to be placed on injured reserve.
With Franklin's future uncertain, the team needs to evaluate all their pass rush options and make sure they field the best team possible. Balmer's performance on the field may not be stellar to date, and he has shown some signs of being injury prone, but when healthy he has also shown flashes of the abilities that led the 49ers to draft him in the first round.
Character is important, but this situation has done little to call Balmer's character into question.
If Balmer is indeed dealing with a personal issue, he is best served solving it. It is unfair to himself, his friends, his family, and the team if he tries to play through such an issue. When he returns, he deserves the right to play for his roster spot—though admittedly the longer he takes, the bigger a battle he will have.
This situation may indeed result in Balmer's days in San Francisco coming to a close, but it will not be as a result of some strife-filled, distraction-causing battle royale between him and Coach Sing. It will simply be because he gets outperformed on the field.
The only rift exists in the minds of the people who cooked it up. The only distraction is the one the media is causing.
Coach Sing and the 49ers will continue to practice and progress, and when and if Balmer returns to the team—if he is still their best option—they will welcome him back.
Keep the faith!