Mike Francesa & Chad Ford Again Avoid Accountability

June 2, 2009

One of my most endearing characteristics is my total willingness to latch on to an assessment that I think is erroneous or unfounded and doggedly attempt to disprove it, even if it means jeopardizing my friends’ desire to discuss sports with me. Perhaps you have noticed this trait in perusing this blog. If so, you and my friends will have something to talk about should your paths ever cross. Anyway, since I take a somewhat masochistic pleasure in being insatiably cranky, you can imagine my excitement for the simultaneous events of one o’clock this afternoon: Mike Francesa’s radio show and Chad Ford’s chat. Two of my favorite vignettes – Francesa’s Joba-to-the-bullpen meme and Ford’s curious aspersions against Terrence Williams – were about to develop further.

As of 3:03 PM, Francesa has predictably engaged in nothing but the relentless application of qualifiers to Joba’s recent performance. His caveats vary in type but are uniform in stupidity:

  • Joba pitched “okay,” but not “great” last night. Of course, he said this minutes after proclaiming Jeremy Sowers’ 5 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 3 K performance “good.” 
  • This “okay” pitching performance came against the Cleveland Indians, a “last place team” (true) that “can’t hit” (false). 
  • Joba has pitched better as a reliever than as a starting pitcher. Other pitchers that would have lower ERAs as a reliever include: CC Sabathia, Johan Santana, Tim Lincecum, and every other good starting pitcher. 
  • Jorge Posada thinks Joba should be a reliever, and because Posada has won World Series before, he knows what he’s talking about. Unfortunately for Francesa, Posada admitted he was wrong seven months later and – as far as we know – believes Joba should be a starter. 
  • Joba has to have “six or seven straight eight-inning performances” to justify the Yankees’ choice. As far as I can tell, the last pitcher to have done this was Roy Halladay from August 14th-September 10th, 2007. So, the developing, 23-year-old Chamberlain must do something that only arguably the best pitcher in baseball did two years ago for the decision to be a good one. That makes sense.

Ford’s chat was equally disappointing, to whatever extent the realization of a totally expected outcome can be labeled as such. Once again, I asked him to elaborate specifically on Terrence Williams’ off-court problems. This time, however, I asked quite firmly and without the self-deprecating “maybe I missed something” (that’ll show him!) My question was ignored. 

Like a jilted lover, I ran to Basketball Prospectus’ Kevin Pelton, who was holding a chat of his own. Beleaguered and defeated, I asked Pelton a version of the same question I’ve been asking Ford for weeks. I was pleasantly surprised when Pelton chose to respond:

Kevin (New York, NY): I keep seeing certain draft experts citing Terrence Williams’ off-court issues as a major reason for GMs avoiding him on draft day. Do you have any idea what these issues are? I can’t think of a damn thing.

Kevin Pelton (Basketball): No clue. He’s both a Seattle guy and apparently following me on Twitter (@kpelton), so I’m totally positive on Williams.

Unless Ford has an incredibly low tolerance for what constitutes off-court problems and believes Twitter usage warrants public consternation, Terrence Williams’ off-court problems remain a mystery even to Ford’s peers. Really, at this point, I can report no change in my feelings towards Ford and his apparent disregard for his journalistic obligations. It’s just a shame that Williams’ name is being dragged through the mud – however subtly – while his accuser exercises complete control over the process by which the public can hold him accountable for his reporting. 


Ambiguous Criticisms Of Terrence Williams Raise Questions About Chad Ford’s Credibility

May 26, 2009


For a while now, I’ve been following the strange Chad Ford-Terrence Williams saga with great interest. Ford is an NBA Draft analyst for ESPN, as well as a propagator of ambiguously denigrating rumors about Williams, the former Louisville Cardinal. You can catch yourself up on this whole situation here. Right now, I post to confirm that, yes, Chad Ford still has serious concerns about Terrence Williams’ off-court behavior and no, he would not like to share them with you.

From yesterday’s chat:

Smitty (DC): Every year there’s a guy ranked in the teens a month before the draft that ends up going top 8. Is Terrence Williams that guy? 

Chad Ford: Talent wise … yes. He’s the guy. Background check wise … I don’t think so. I think teams are a little scared off. 

My reactions to Ford’s continual refusal to elaborate have progressed as follows: curiosity, distress, outrage. One of Ford’s job requirements is to share with us teams’ preferences as the draft approaches. If he has knowledge of the facts that are governing teams’ behavior, he is obligated to share those too. Ford is fulfilling the first requirement acceptably, but failing the second miserably. His continual failure to flesh out the reasons for teams’ purportedly mounting concerns about Williams not only makes Ford look like a jerk, but also – and more damagingly – makes him look like a liar. 

Throughout his college career, Williams received nothing but praise for his leadership, affability, and accountability. He has had no run-ins with the fans, coaches, or the law. Nevertheless, Ford has continually called these qualities into question, but only in the most ambiguous of ways. He would do well to explain himself, and soon. Because as far as I’m concerned, his professional reputation is at stake.

If history is any indicator, Ford’s next chat is Tuesday, June 2nd. I know I’ll be asking him to clarify his position – again. I’d love if you joined me.

Chad Ford Scoffs At Your Reasonable Request For Clarification

April 14, 2009

Over the last few weeks, ESPN’s resident NBA draft expert Chad Ford has made some troubling assessments about Louisville’s Terrence Williams. On at least two separate occasions, Ford has alluded to both on and off-court concerns about the former Cardinals player. You can catch yourself up here, if you are so inclined. I’ve taken a strong interest in Ford’s somewhat unflattering characterization of Williams because I cannot, for the life of me, think of a single incident that would warrant such a portrayal. I’m trying not to get too troubled by this, but I do think it’s awfully unfair to continually file reports about a player that call his character into question, but offer no explanation for the events that made the question necessary. 

Anyway, I decided to ask Ford about this directly. Because of either incompetence or unavailability, I could not find Ford’s professional e-mail address, so I submitted my question in his chat. It read roughly like the following:

Mr. Ford, you’ve written several times that Terrence Williams has had both on and off-court issues. I cannot, however, think of a single incident that would support this assessment. Could you please elaborate? Thank you.

Well, if you clicked the chat link, you will notice that my question did not make the cut. Despite this post’s somewhat obnoxious title, I’m temporarily willing to believe that Ford was inundated with questions of superior quality and greater urgency. So, I’m not terribly upset just yet. This is not, however, the end of my small quest. I do plan on asking this question with the same balance of courtesy and curiosity in future chats.

It may seem like needless nitpicking, but I do think this situation raises some potentially serious questions about journalistic responsibility and public scrutiny. If Ford’s e-mail address is unavailable to the public and he gets to choose which questions he answers in his chats, then there is a worrisome lack of accountability that needs examination. Ford’s editor fits in here somewhere, but I don’t know how exactly. In any case, I think this is a worthwhile discussion, because the subject of debate is an individual’s character. It’s not his jump shot, rebounding, or passing ability, all of which can be evaluated subjectively. Ford is raising questions about a person’s behavior, habits, and judgment. The criticism of these qualities necessitates supporting evidence. We’re not there yet, but if such criticism can be made without pressure to elaborate, then we should all be a little troubled.

DUI Manslaughter Is Worse Than Steroid Use… Right?

April 2, 2009

If nothing else, the ongoing Donte’ Stallworth case serves as another disturbing reminder of how far the sports media has fallen. To summarize, the Cleveland Browns wide receiver was out drinking at a Miami club in the wee hours of March 14th. On his way home, Stallworth struck and killed a construction worker that had just gotten off work. In my opinion, the victim’s failure to cross the street in a crosswalk was canceled out by Stallworth’s blood alcohol content: .126.

I want to be clear about how horrifying it is to drive drunk. It is a disgusting, reckless, and selfish act that has no business occurring anywhere, particularly in a society that is well aware of its dangers. It was reprehensible with Joba Chamberlain did it, when JJ Redick did it, when Deltha O’Neal did it, and when Tommy Kelly did it. All of these athletes made the decision to drive drunk, and, unlike Stallworth, they somehow managed to avoid killing someone. But in all of their cases, they put the lives of others at risk because they were too lazy or dim-witted to call a cab.

Somehow, both this general problem and specific case have induced almost zero outrage amongst the people paid to cover sports. Reporters and columnists can try to justify it by claiming their job is to cover the events and feats occurring solely in the athletes’ professional realm. But that hasn’t stopped them from excoriating Josh Howard for disrespecting the national anthem in a YouTube video, or lambasting Alex Rodriguez for participating in unusual photo shoots. Such incidents clearly took place outside the confines of a basketball court, baseball diamond, or football field, yet the sports media saw no problem with sinking their teeth into those stories.

I repeat: Donte Stallworth killed someone. He did so because he drove drunk, an act that occurs with much more regularity and consequence than taking steroids. An oft-cited explanation for Major League Baseball and the federal government’s “war on steroids” is ensuring the safety of America’s youth. Well, I’d hate to break it to the congressional grandstanders, MLB owners, and baseball reporters that all stand to gain from such a crusade, but it turns out that drunk driving poses a far more serious threat to people of all ages, areas, and creeds. It has for some time now. 

Ultimately, I find it both sickening and heartbreaking that journalists have opted to use their considerable power to write frenzied and unhelpful columns like this, instead of using their time more responsibly. Like any journalist covering any subject, sports reporters have an obligation to write cogently about the events, trends, and participants in the world of professional and amateur athletics. Part of this duty, I think, is bringing perspective and insight to the sports landscape. They have to make honest attempts to make sense of it all, to point out inconsistencies and oddities, to question and probe, and to demand serious thought of their readers just as they should of themselves. Then a prominent baseball player uses steroids – hurting no one but himself, if that – and legions of sportswriters and fans are ready to declare the end of integrity as we know it, sounding the death knell for professional sports and perhaps civilized society itself. Yet when another athlete drives drunk and kills a man, we are given nothing but AP reports and a half-hearted admission of its tragedy. Invariably, we are then shuffled off to Barry Bonds and his latest attempts to kick small children and defenestrate old women.

Sometimes I wonder if the death knell isn’t meant for contemporary sportswriting instead.

Jimmy Dykes Completes Journey To His Inevitable Fate, Is Totally Wrong

March 25, 2009

First, Jimmy Dykes whined about the lack of national respect given to Southeastern Conference basketball. He called us crazy if we truly believed that the basketball teams in the 2008-2009 SEC were generally inferior to those in the other major conferences. Based on nothing but regionalism and selective memory, he assured us that teams like Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky, LSU and even Arkansas could compete with any team in the more highly-touted conferences. “Just you wait and see,” he said.

Time passed, and college basketball somehow managed to survive without any nationally ranked SEC teams. Unquestionably driven to his wits’ end by this inconceivable development, he promised us that five SEC teams would make the NCAA tournament – three from the SEC East, one from the SEC West, and a fifth from some magical faraway division. It was not the prediction itself that was ridiculous (at the time, it wasn’t), but the total lack of justification for making such an assertion. His guarantee wasn’t born of the careful merging of subjective (scouting) and objective (data) analysis, but of unprovoked defensiveness and regional bias. Dykes’ statement read less like useful insight and more like propaganda issued by a desperate leader as his regime is about to fall. Sure enough, three SEC teams made the NCAA tournament, including one that never would have been considered if not for winning the conference tournament.

Then, the coup de grace. In the same broadcast, Dykes claimed that not only would these five unnamed SEC teams make the NCAA tournament, but they would also thrive. Perpetually walking the line between self-assured and vague, he told us to wait and see how many SEC teams made it past that first weekend into the Sweet 16. Because – and this is a direct quote – “that’s how you really tell what the good teams are.” Read the rest of this entry »

Final Thoughts On Jimmy Dykes & The SEC… Until March

February 6, 2009

If you’re sick of me talking about Jimmy Dykes and his feelings about the Southeastern Conference, I understand. Feel free to go do something else – explore my blogroll, make yourself a sandwich, or whatever makes you happy. I have a hard time apologizing for revisiting this subject, however, because I think it exemplifies some important shortcomings in the sports media’s treatment of its subjects. Specifically, Dykes’ comments about the SEC highlight a lack of accountability and analysis from which sports journalism far too often considers itself exempt.

As fate would have it (and by “fate,” I mean “ESPN’s regional broadcasting assignments”), Dykes and his partner Brad Nessler did the Alabama-Vanderbilt game last night. I greeted Dykes’ amiable visage not with loathing, but with bemusement, as I wondered to myself if the night held yet another impassioned endorsement of the SEC. I expected that Dykes would not oblige, because surely he would not risk becoming a caricature of himself; surely, he would not want to become known as “the paranoid guy who can be counted upon to defend the SEC during every one of his broadcasts.” I was wrong. Read the rest of this entry »