The Richie Incognito, Jonathan Martin NFL bullying/harassment mess has somehow spawned the most important conversation about the toxic intersection of racism and "manhood" in years. That is why it was so distressing to see Fox Sports' Jay Glazer land the first interview with Richie Incognito since this story broke, which aired during Fox's NFL Sunday pregame show. Glazer was very open about the fact that he had what is being described as an "existing personal and financial relationship" with Incognito, although it begged a question that went stunningly unasked: what the hell is any journalist doing having "side jobs" with anyone they are supposed to be covering and why is this acceptable to Glazer's bosses?*
But that question was quickly forgotten in the sulphuric fumes of what followed. To say that this interview was a cheap exercise in public relations would be to insult the people who do very good work in the world of public relations. The interview was edited with the subtlety of a Breitbart video and Jay Glazer threw more softballs than the cumulative careers of Lisa Fernandez and Jennie Finch.
The day before, Jay Glazer took to his Twitter page to announce the interview and boast, "I held nothing back, asked him everything." Is this even remotely true? The best answer to that is to talk about all the questions that went unasked. Richie incognito was not asked by Glazer whether or not he was ordered by coaches to bully Jonathan Martin. That was deemed off limits by Incognito's legal team, although it boggles the mind that anyone with an ounce of journalistic responsibility to the story would not have tried to think of creative ways to ask the question. ("Have you ever heard of coaches ordering players to bully other players?")
Glazer also did not ask Richie incognito about accusations of sexual assault made against him last summer. He did not ask Richie Incognito who on the Dolphins sent the text threatening to gang-rape Jonathan Martin sister. He also did not press Richie Incognito on his reported rampant use of "the n-word" in the locker room, a use well beyond the occasional voicemail.
Instead he gave Richie Incognito a platform to say that Jonathan Martin sent him a text that said, "I am going to kill your whole family." Neither Glazer nor Incognito told the audience that this was actually a forwarded piece of kitschy digital art complete with cute pet and smiling person. We know this because the text in question was released by Martin's lawyer later in the day. Keep in mind, Glazer said explicitly that he saw the text but did not mention anything about the puppies. That means either Glazer was lying about having seen it or deliberately misled his audience.
I would like to say that Jay Glazer embarrassed the journalistic ethics of the Fox family of networks, but I am incapable of being that droll. This was ugly and Jay Glazer should be embarrassed he took part in this charade. Even Fox should be embarrassed that they gave him a platform for it. I think that deadspin said it best when they described the whole thing as "a f-cking joke."
The question about whether a sports reporter is an actual, real, live journalist or just a shill for the leagues they "cover", is as old as sports itself. Most of the time frankly it just doesn't even matter. Does it really affect any of our lives if we learn "the truth" about whether Wayne Gretzky's wife has a gambling problem or if David Ortiz loves it or hates it when little kids ask for his autograph in crowded restaurants?
And yet there are times in history when having actual journalists in the sports world is vital to society. Wendell Smith's work with the Pittsburgh Courier shadowing Jackie Robinson's first year in the Major Leagues truly mattered. Having Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times cover the early days of Muhammad Ali's career mattered. The coverage today that Christine Brennan does about Title IX and women's sports, makes a difference. The work Neil DeMause does about public funding of stadiums is an absolute public service. And sports journalism can still matter today. Sunday demanded journalism in this vein from Jay Glazer. Instead we were handed a big steaming pile of propaganda. I hope the two business partners and friends had a good laugh about it afterward. The joke was on us.
* in the original draft of this article, I described the Glazer-Incognito relationship as an "economic partnership." I have ammended that language to more appropriately describe it as The Atlantic did, as a "financial relationship."