Hanley Ramirez and others may be stars, but they don’t know everything


Howard Cosell was a trailblazer in the sports broadcasting world. The legendary announcer was known for “telling it like it is” on the air rather than adding color commentary.

Cosell was never afraid to stir the pot.

In his book, “I Never Played the Game,” he introduced the term “jockocracy” to describe the trend of hiring former athletes as commentators despite having no credentials or media training. He didn’t want to see sports journalism watered down by old players who had no right to be in the broadcast booth.

Cosell’s criticism has proven to fall on deaf ears. Players slide from the locker room to the television set with ease. Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, Donyell Marshall, Jalen Rose, and Nomar Garciaparra make up a small list of athletes turned broadcasters after retirement.

Why does all this matter? […]

The Hanley Ramirez situation made me think about athletes and their relationship with the media.

Ramirez disgraced the game with his lack of hustle earlier this week. It was pathetic and embarrassing. His manager, Fredi Gonzalez pulled him from the game and let him know his actions weren’t acceptable. Ramirez disagreed and showed his immaturity after the game with some pointed comments for his skipper.

“Hopefully, he does it with everybody. That’s OK,” Ramirez said. “He doesn’t understand that. He never played in the big leagues.”

Ramirez thinks only professionals like him know what it’s like on the diamond. Only they know how to play the game.

Unfortunately, Ramirez proved you don’t have to know anything to be a star. His actions showed he doesn’t have a clue about how to play baseball. He’s just talented.

He was blessed. It doesn’t mean he actually understands the game. Professional athletes are some of the most arrogant people in the world. Because they can dribble a ball or swing a bat, they have the right to belittle others. What would anyone else know about sports, anyway? You can’t possibly know anything about sports if you aren’t lucky enough to be a professional.

Athletes use this response most often with the media. They discount a journalist because he never played.

“I Never Played the Game.”

Howard Cosell didn’t spar with Ali. He couldn’t throw a spiral like Joe Namath. But Cosell could “tell it like it is” like no one else. No one could duplicate his magical voice and his reporting style. Howard Cosell was one of the best in his profession.

He didn’t need to play the game to know what he was talking about. And he knew what he was talking about. He also knew how to talk – how to report.

Most athletes don’t know how to report. Some don’t even know much about their sport, except that they were really good at it. Ask Allen Iverson about the brains behind the game and he’ll likely say he didn’t need it. I mean, he didn’t need practice. He was a great player – a Hall of Fame player – but that doesn’t mean he knew the game.

Yet, every year a recently retired star is smiling into the camera. They struggle to speak and write in proper grammar. But they are qualified because they ruled Sundays for 20 years?

Journalists need to master the rules of grammar for everything. It’s the key to their craft. Athletes like Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin worked for ESPN. They were terrible because they weren’t qualified media professionals. More and more athletes join the media every year to lend their expertise to a company. Some don’t even have college degrees.

If they never went to Writing 105 during their three-year stay in college, why are they taking jobs in the media?

And why are ESPN and Comcast (to name two) scooping them up off the retirement trail?

My problem: if athletes are allowed to fire off insults to journalist and now managers about their credentials, they better be ready to take some heat after their 20 years in the big leagues is over.

He never played in the big leagues, says the athlete.

And you never studied in the big leagues (college), says the average Joe.

When the glory days are over and the crowds disappear, the athlete will wish he studied.

Allen Iverson is lost as he tries to figure out life after basketball.

So many others are too. So, they turn to television because it’s easy.

Donyell Marshall went from a player on the Philadelphia 76ers last year to an analyst on Comcast SportsNet this year. Marshall had no credentials for a career in the media besides his 15 years in the NBA. He didn’t graduate from UConn, although he is on schedule to receive his degree in July. Marshall attended the Sportscaster U. program at Syracuse University over the summer. Butfour days is hardly four years. There was no finals week or big papers to write. It didn’t prepare or qualify Marshall for a job in the media. But he was hired anyway because he played the game.

Jalen Rose played too. The former NBA star battles Skip Bayless on ESPN First Take. Bayless is a strong personality. He harshly criticizes players when they perform poorly. LeBron James is a favorite target. He calls him Prince James mocking his title as King. He calls him LeBrick because of his mediocre shooting ability. James falls in love with the three at crunch time rather than taking it strong to the hole. Bayless is relentless with his criticism. But you can also see that he just wants James to succeed.

Bayless is also hated by many sports fans for his brash style. But the truth is, he’s great on TV. He knows sports and he’s a great debater. He’s great because he worked hard. While it looks like he has an easy job, Bayless works tirelessly to be prepared for every show.

He learned that work ethic as a young journalist. Bayless earned his job at ESPN after years in newspapers. He started his career at The Miami Herald right out of Vanderbilt. After two years, he was an investigative sports reporter for the Los Angeles Times. When he was 25, Bayless was given the lead sports column at The Dallas Morning News. The Dallas Times Herald lured him away with a big salary among the highest in the nation for sports columnists. He was also the lead columnist for the Chicago Tribune and immediately won awards for his work to go with his others from Texas. He participated often on Rome is Burning, wrote columns on ESPN.com, and teamed with Woody Paige on Cold Pizza before First Take took off.

Needless to say, Skip Bayless earned his prominent position after years as a top-notch journalist.

But Jalen Rose still takes exception to Skip’s criticism.

Rose pulled the “you never played the game” card to get his point across during a debate about Bayless’ critical style. While some say Rose destroyed Bayless in the argument, I have a hard time seeing it. Rose’s points were weak at best.

Bill Gates is a genius. He is one of a kind. So are all the professional athletes in the world. But Jalen wants credit for dealing with “the physical, the mental, the emotional.” Every job takes its toll on the professional physically, mentally, and emotionally. And yes, everyone who has a job is a professional. Whether they are a construction worker or a teacher, they are professionals at their craft. They get paid to do their job.

Rose makes it seem like a professional athlete works harder and has it harder than everyone else.

“You don’t understand or respect the time, energy and effort that has gone into being a professional,” Rose said to Bayless. “It’s more than just watching the 48 minutes of the game.”

Jalen, Skip does understand the time, energy and effort that go into being a professional because he is one. He is a professional sports journalist. Professional athletes aren’t the only people in the world that work hard. Bayless probably put hours and hours into stories throughout his career. He probably worked into the early morning to get a story done on time. But you wouldn’t know about that.

Bayless also knows that it’s more than watching the 48 minutes of the game. For his job, it’s about analyzing that game. It’s about forming questions and asking them at the press conference. It’s about taking that information and putting it together in an entertaining way for the next morning’s newspaper. It’s hours and hours of work that starts before the game and ends well after the buzzer sounds. While you were eating at an expensive restaurant with your buddies, he was writing the story that made you relevant.

And how hard can it be to put all that time, energy and effort into a game. You played basketball for a living. And you got millions and millions of dollars. Sorry Jalen, but I don’t care about the physical and emotional struggles you had. You got paid to play a game. That’s hardly work compared to what the everyday man has to do to make a living.

Rose ends the debate by questioning Skip’s days as a player.

“And when you played high school basketball, that don’t count,” Rose said. “Please!”

Rose was blessed like Ramirez, so he is too good for high school basketball. For most, that’s where it all ends. Dreams of playing in the NBA or MLB are left behind in childhood. The high school hardwood is the closest many get to the thrill of pro sports. But they weren’t blessed with talent.

It doesn’t mean they don’t know the game. Basketball is basketball. Baseball is baseball. I guess it’s different in the NBA, where five steps isn’t a walk and defense is optional. I guess I missed something during my four years of high school basketball. I learned two steps is legal. I learned how to pass. I learned that defense and hustle earned playing time and respect. If only I knew I was doing it all wrong, maybe I could have gone to the NBA.

I only played high school basketball, but I loved the game. I loved every detail and took pride in understanding the game. I still love the game. And I always will. I’ll never forget my senior year playing in front of the community. I’ll never forget the practices and all the hard work I put in. I’ll never play in the pros. But it doesn’t mean I don’t know the game.

Rose scoffed at Bayless’ high school basketball experience.

But Jalen, what about your credentials for the media? What about your education?

Rose was a part of the Fab Five at Michigan. His team’s accomplishments were erased from the record books. His career never happened because his teammates got paid. The program was dirty. I have a hard time believing they attended class either.

To his credit, Rose was the only player that didn’t receive big sums of money at Michigan, but he did take money. Rose left Michigan after his junior season.

Rose is a big believer in education, though. So, he went back to school and earned his degree – online.

If he believes in education so much, why didn’t he actually go back to school and experience the pressures of academia? He has plenty of time and plenty of money to attend classes at Michigan or any other university. But he chose the online route.

So, when you say you have a degree from the University of Maryland Online, that doesn’t count. Please!

Rose is proud of his educational achievement, but he looks down on Bayless’ athletic endeavors.

Athletes think only they know the pressures of being a professional. The truth is that they get to play a game for a living. Howard Cosell once said sports is the toy department of human life.

What could be so hard about that?

Cosell never played, but he enjoyed his time in sports. He loved the competition. He probably wished he could get that feeling Ali got after a fight or the one Unitas got after a touchdown.

He recognized the special quality of sport.

“The ultimate victory in competition is derived from the inner satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best and that you have gotten the most out of what you had to give,” Cosell said.

If only Hanley Ramirez knew that.