The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

going crazy passion and love
A news item from this morning's St. Pete Times Sports page, by Bucs beat reporter Rick Stroud. I would link to it on the newspaper's site, but it doesn't appear to be online; certain shorty items tend to not get transferred to the site (transition problems, I suspect, as most papers have):

Keyshawn: Tell me the difference

The image looked familiar. Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon went ballistic and screamed at coach Bill Callahan and offensive coordinator Marc Trestman during their 31-10 loss at Denver on Monday night. A year ago, Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson had a similar run-in with coach Jon Gruden on national television. But Johnson said that while the incidents were nearly identical, their treatment in the media was not. "If it ain't racist, it ain't," Johnson said. "But you can't tell me they're not identical. Mine was run over and over and over again. All of a sudden, I'm 'asking for the ball', I'm 'going crazy'. But (Gannon) has 'passion and love for the game'. Basically, that's the perception. You tell me, I'm selfish. I'm a loudmouth receiver from the ghetto. And this is some class-act quarterback. And I've got some blond pretty boy as my head coach. So I attack him 'viciously, maliciously'. And he goes after his coach and he's showing 'firepower' and this and that."

-Rick Stroud

Now, Keyshawn has gone off on this subject before, as part of a more general commentary on why he seems to draw so much criticism every time he opens his mouth. He's been a media magnet from the day the Jets drafted him, and the book he wrote after his rookie season pretty much cemented his reputation as someone who's mouth outpaced his pro achievements. It should be noted that he's now a "loudmouth" with a Super Bowl ring, which, at least in the short term, will go some way toward justifying his outspokenness (unlike in the past, when a chief complaint about him was that he hadn't won anything). But the perception is that he courts all the media attention with his comments, and so he deserves all the flack he gets afterward.

Does race enter into the perception of Keyshawn? It's easy to look at his sideline and media encounters as standalone events and say that race has nothing to do with it, that it's just Keyshawn being the ball-hungry hothead he's always been, and getting appropriately ripped for it. It's even easier to look at it that way when other black players around the league manage to get their points across much more effectively by using more understated approaches. And there are plenty of examples of white players who put on histrionics on and off the field that make Keyshawn look subdued; sometimes they're successful at it (Jeremy Shockey), sometimes decidedly not (Ryan Leaf).

Race is an issue, as it usually is in this country. In football, it's usually about juxtaposition: Black skill player, white quarterback, white coach, etc. With Keyshawn, his reputation precedes him with almost every move he makes, and that clouds the issue considerably. It's not fair to maintain the "give me the damn ball" impressions made about him when he was still a rookie, but that's the breaks, and the fact that he derives benefit from all this makes it harder to be sympathetic.

When you do compare events like Keyshawn's sideline argument last year with Gannon's earlier this week, the similarities stand out. Gannon may or may not have had legitimate beefs with his coach, but that was also the case with Keyshawn. On the face of it, the situations and actions were pretty much the same. So why was the perception so different?

Reputations do precede, and that's the heart of it here. Gannon's known for being mostly mild-mannered, no doubt the result of going through a journeyman's career before finding success with the Raiders. So when he goes off--and this is a crucial element--in view of the cameras, it's acknowledged, based on his usual behavior, as exceptional circumstances. Therefore, he gets the benefit of the doubt. If he starts making a habit out of it--assuming that doesn't get him benched--then it becomes a broken record, and suddenly Gannon is a hothead too. With Keyshawn, it's looked at as more of the same, although it should be noted that the perception that he constantly carps about the injustices he has to endure is something of a stretch too--it's just that, when he makes those comments, they make for juicier news than the just-as-frequent comments that he's doing fine.

In any case, Stroud's report is good food for thought.