I lost my little brother to drug addiction. On my wedding day.
Those words were incredibly difficult to type, but they’re real. And they’re necessary to preface what is to follow.
I also don’t want the words that follow to be about outrage, although the comments that precipitated them certainly were outrageous. No, these words are about pain, and perspective, and about assessing the state of sports commentary. I guess they’re about thinking before you speak, and about wondering how far we’re willing to go in our quest for clicks.
On Monday, a sports radio host in Kansas City who would usually be debating NFL betting lines on 888 sportsbook, decided to make abhorrent comments about Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid while trying to make a point about Tyreek Hill. Here is a large sample of the comments via USA Today:
“The thing is, they probably think they can fix him, but they thought they could fix him before and they failed. Andy Reid does not have a great record of fixing players. He doesn’t. Discipline is not his thing. It did not work out particularly well in his family life, and that needs to be added to this, as we’re talking about the Chiefs. He wasn’t real great at that either. He’s had a lot of things go bad on him, family and players.”
“He is not good at fixing people, he is not good at discipline. That is not his strength. His strength is designing football plays. To be honest, Andy Reid’s greatest strength is designing football offenses and plays. That’s his greatest strength. Players like him, sure, he’s a leader, I’m not saying he’s not a leader, his greatest strength is designing football plays. And that’s gotten him a long way, but that doesn’t mean he’s qualified to discipline players, or help them, or change them, or make them better.”
If you don’t know, Reid lost his son Garrett to a drug overdose in 2012. The host quickly tried to walk back his comments as the outrage began to manifest, sending emails to Awful Announcing in an attempt to “clarify” his comments. He also took the predictable step of taking to Twitter to blame the masses for misconstruing his words, instead of, you know, just apologizing. I’ll leave you to judge the veracity of his defense for yourself. In my eyes, the implication is clear.
So, where do we even start in assessing the problems in those comments? Maybe with the fact that human beings aren’t objects to be “fixed?” Or the fact that a grown man should know that bringing a man’s family into a discussion about his job performance crosses a line? Or how about the reality that the connection between Reid’s parenting and his ability to coach a football team is nonexistent? My personal favorite was the host bringing up “discipline,” which has nothing to do with a person struggling with addiction.
Even if we gave the host the full benefit of the doubt, his comments are still incredibly callous. Reid will likely see them. So too will his wife, Tammy, and his other children. As will families, like mine, who have gone through the same tragedy. How do you think that makes them feel? Regardless of which sons or which struggles the host was referring to (again I’ll let you decide), the implication is that they were Reid’s, and his family’s, fault. By proxy, all the other families going through this are also to blame. At best, his thoughtless comments serve to rip open thousands of wounds across our country that will never fully heal.
But here’s the crux of the problem. It’s not a stretch to assume that the host knew exactly what he was doing and is getting exactly what he wanted. He knew the comments would ignite the phone lines and play on social media. Despite calls for a boycott, the radio station, of which he is a minority owner, will likely see record ratings on Tuesday as listeners tune in to hear the reactions of his colleagues and what the reaction from the host will be. While the host was removed from the air indefinitely and he offered a second apology on Twitter, the station will likely hunker down until the next outrageous utterance takes the attention away. Business, as usual, will continue, with Reid left with his name drug through the mud. Anyone who is unfortunate enough to have gone through the death of a loved one due to drugs will be left with the grief and the sting of these uninformed, insensitive comments.
I’m left to wonder if such a spectacularly awful, distasteful take eventually being shared was just the standard of the industry. As consumers of sports media continue to reward the shock-jock, blowhard, hot-take style of media, content producers will continue to provide it. Worse off, we’ll become desensitized to it all, if we’re not already. But the shock levels need to increase to continue to produce the same reactions.
One positive that comes from incidents like this one is the opportunity to reflect, reconsider and learn. Which brings me back to what I hoped to convey through these words.
Pain. Words can cause it in a very real, perceptible way. They can have consequences, both intended and unintended, so we should choose them carefully.
It’s incredibly dangerous to speak forcefully on things we are uninformed about. There were more than a few people who voiced an opinion that the host was right. He wasn’t. “Discipline” has nothing to do with “fixing” an addiction. The notion that there are people out there nodding in agreement that Reid could have or should have done something differently – and could have somehow produced a different outcome by doing so – makes me shudder to the core. It pains me to think of families who have gone through such a tragedy hearing those comments or seeing the nods of assent and feeling even a hint of blame. Families and friends can do everything to help an addict, but ultimately it comes down to themselves. To suggest otherwise is unfair and irresponsible.
Perspective. This man’s job is to talk about sports. Games. There’s nothing wrong with taking our games seriously. But it’s never worth using the death of a child to attempt to make a point or to disparage someone. Yes, sports are competitive. But they’re also supposed to be fun. They’re entertaining. Never ever should we think they are important enough to make the kinds of comments we heard this week. Let’s try to remember what it’s all about and keep it in perspective.
Finally, the state of sports commentary. The responsibility for what was said falls 100 percent on the shoulders of the host. But remember that the fans help to steer the course of that commentary every day. We vote with our clicks, with our TVs and our radios, and with our dollars. Sure, hot takes can be fun and amusing and we can all yell at each other in good nature, but the more we gobble them up, the hotter they are going to get. More of our commentary will be given by actors playing characters and going for the biggest shock, and less of it will be a legitimate discourse on the games we love. And as a consequence, we may get more takes like Monday’s slipping through the cracks.
Ultimately, we decide what the commentary surrounding our games will be. Words have meaning, and sometimes they can affect people in ways you never considered. It’s dangerous to speak on topics in an uninformed way, and doing so can cause both physical and emotional damage. Remember what sports are really all about, and never let allegiances or the pursuit of “clout” blind you to the human aspect of our games.
Lastly – and maybe this covers all of it – don’t be like the host. Instead, have some empathy. Just because you can say something, doesn’t mean you should. Some things are more important than ratings and clicks, and chief among them is treating the players and coaches with the human dignity they deserve.
Andy Reid didn’t deserve to be treated like that. Nor do the families who have suffered similar struggles deserve to be subjected to such abhorrent, misguided comments. At the end of the day, they are real people going through real pain, while football is just a game.
Josh Naso aka The Silver Fox has a love for all things sports that borders on disorder. Here, he aims to share his thoughts on and passion for those sports with you.