Posted by: Mike Cornelius | January 6, 2022

The Biggest Jerk And An Absolute Bum

Give Hub Arkush his due, he dared to say the quiet part out loud.  Naturally, for doing so the editor of the “Chicago Football” magazine and website has received plenty of grief, a reminder that brutal honesty is not always rewarded.  Arkush is one of fifty sportswriters who vote on the AP’s NFL Most Valuable Player Award, and while there are several organizations that confer the same honor, the league recognizes the Associated Press award as its de facto official MVP prize.  On Tuesday, during a radio interview on a Chicago sports talk program, Arkush volunteered that he wouldn’t be voting for Aaron Rodgers because the Green Bay quarterback was “the biggest jerk in the league,” for having lied about his COVID-19 vaccination status.  While acknowledging the case for Rodgers’ game day statistics, Arkush contended that those numbers weren’t definitively superior to other candidates, and “the rest of it is why he’s not going to be my choice.” 

Lest there be any doubt, Arkush made clear that the rest of it was the quarterback’s attempt to deceive fans by claiming he was “immunized” and, once the lie was laid bare, his continued peddling of disproved theories about the pandemic and repeated attacks on anyone who, in Rodgers’ view, disagreed with or slighted him.  Most notably, while giving the actual author of the piece a pass Rodgers verbally assaulted sportswriter Molly Knight for the apparently unpardonable sin of retweeting a link to a critical Wall Street Journal article, which predictably resulted in Knight’s social media accounts being flooded with attacks from Green Bay fans.  To Arkush, a player can’t act as Rogers has “to your team and your organization and your fan base…and be the Most Valuable Player.”

The story goes on from there, with Rodgers calling Arkush “an absolute bum” who couldn’t possibly make such a judgment because they didn’t know each other, though that deficiency apparently was not enough to bar Rodgers from reaching his conclusion about Arkush.  The sportswriter in turn apologized for violating the wire service’s guidelines that voters should not discuss their ballots, while scores of other writers, not all of whom could possibly have voting rights in the very small AP electorate, tut-tutted their disapproval of Arkush for allowing such petty concerns to intrude on the sacred process of deep and profound deliberation based solely on performance on the gridiron over the course of the NFL regular season.  Which is to say, how dare Arkush utter the quiet part out loud!

For all the weight that is accorded the scores of awards like NFL MVP, from similar honors across the landscape of sports to admission to Halls of Fame – and in the case of awards to active players, that weight often includes a contractual bonus – the voters are always human, which means they are subjective.  The judgment of even those who do their level best to consider only the specific criteria for an award may be colored by one’s opinion of a candidate, perhaps based on a stray interaction or third-hand information.  And that possibility blossoms when the award itself allows for consideration of vague qualities, such as the Baseball Hall of Fame’s edict that BBWAA voters should consider “character.”

Both the impact of Cooperstown’s ill-defined criteria and the power of personal opinion can be seen in the voting for this year’s Hall of Fame class.  The Great Game’s Hall gives the sportswriters who vote the option of publishing their ballots, and based on the public tally to date, it looks like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens may come close, but will likely once again fall short in this, their final year of eligibility.  In contrast, David Ortiz appears headed for a first-ballot induction, or a result so near to that as to make his election next year all but inevitable. 

But while the single season and career home run king and the only seven-time Cy Young Award winner have long been identified as the faces of baseball’s steroid era, Ortiz has just as much circumstantial evidence of PEDs use.  Since none of them was ever suspended for PEDs, why are the first two still knocking on the door after a decade, while the third will soon have a plaque?  Partly because of timing.  As noted, Bonds and Clemens went on the ballot at a time when many self-righteous scribes were looking for scapegoats.  But don’t dismiss the impact of personal relationships.  The prickly Bonds and aloof Clemens had few friends among writers, while the affable Ortiz was friendly and open to all comers, with the sole exception of the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy. 

The Arkush-Rodgers kerfuffle was hardly a fair fight.  A celebrity NFL quarterback and one-time “Jeopardy” host has a far louder megaphone than a local journalist, and as Rodgers previously showed in his gratuitous assault on Knight, he’s more than willing to use his platform to bully.  But the Chicago scribe did fans everywhere a service by reminding them that all the various awards and honors that are given such copious airtime and so many column inches should not be treated as if etched on tablets of stone.  They are usually right, sometimes debatable, occasionally dead wrong, but always the collective judgment of an imperfect electorate.  And kudos to any fan who can quickly name the 2019 MVP’s from the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB.  Or even three of the leagues.  Okay, two.   

Also, by becoming the story, Arkush highlighted the ongoing truth that sportswriters shouldn’t be the electorate for any of these awards.  Not because those who have voting privileges are better or worse than anyone else, but because inevitably, stories like this week’s are going to arise.  Writers should compose headlines, not be their subject.  At least until On Sports and Life gets a vote.

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