Watch Your Back, Quarterback!
By Nicholas Brown
Jets Staff Writer
December 22nd, 2004
Pennington's  best defense against the NY media is good performances on Sundays. (Jets Photo)
Pennington's best defense against the NY media is good performances on Sundays. (Jets Photo)
HEMPSTEAD, NY - There are many fans standing in Chad Pennington's corner following his recent sparring match with the New York media. After all, it’s refreshing to see a high-profile athlete cast aside vanilla, canned post-game remarks in favor of an actual opinion. But unfortunately, Pennington’s lambasting of the media during Monday’s press conference also demonstrated questionable judgment and a poor choice of forum in which to articulate his valid complaints.

What makes scrutiny of Pennington’s behavior particularly difficult is the fact that his criticism of the media was so clearly on point. How can one not respect Pennington’s passion and conviction on this issue, and credit him for taking a bold stand against the incendiary tabloid sharks? How can one not praise Chad for demanding that inflammatory journalists approach their profession with integrity, while recognizing the “privileges” inherent in covering the New York Jets?

Following Pennington’s well-deserved reprimand of the media, Jets fans should take comfort in knowing that their quarterback is an individual of exceptional character. Yet, at the same time, they’d also be right to question whether Pennington is evenly equipped with foresight and savvy, two particularly important qualities in the public relations context. Pennington wouldn’t have been any less of a man gritting his teeth and pacifying those whom he felt had previously treated him unjustly. Instead, he’d have been a smarter man.

It’s important here to put aside the fact that you may agree with Pennington's overall message. Because to think that a lone quarterback's fist-pounding tirade will mold the ethics of an industry as old as the printing press is naiveté at its finest. All that matters now is that the red-faced men with the power of the pen feel insulted, slighted and patronized.

Pennington dropped back in the pocket and unwittingly hurled the greatest conceivable insult toward of a pack of journalists: he called them all liars. Those were words that stung not just those listening immediately beneath the podium, but also their national counterparts and fraternal brothers in arms. Of course, the true peril here lies in the fact that this brooding clan will never forget that moment. And the one thing we all know is this: payback’s a bitch.

Although taking on the beat writing media head-to-head may theoretically be a noble battle, it's inevitably a losing war. Because even if Pennington plays at an All-Pro caliber from this Sunday until the last of his career, there will always be missteps. And when bleary-eyed readers pick up their coffee and newspaper early Monday morning, it's vindictive personalities like Serby, Cimini & Co. who will have the last word. Always. Pennington's primary job off the field is to be an ambassador of the New York Jets football team and to keep the team focused on winning. But in the midst of a successful season, he's now handed the New York media an axe to grind against him personally, and potentially the rest of the team as a whole. And for what in return? The opportunity to vent to the audience least receptive to his message, and in the process, throw gasoline on a smoldering fire?

For better or for worse, the media can be a powerful tool in professional sports, especially in a market that boasts an exceptional number of reporters, each of whom require explosive headlines to thwart off competing rival papers. But, for the time being, Pennington has alienated this tool; and potentially worse, he may have turned it against himself in the long-term.

If there's anything to be said for keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, Pennington faltered here. One should remain confident that, as the Jets quarterback for the next several years, Chad recognizes the wisdom of patching up this relationship, even if he feels his personal pride is at stake. But until then, here's to hoping that his play on the field will limit the media's ability to exact revenge on their newfound villain.