Thursday, February 7, 2008

Greed: if a player you like does it, it's called "competitive"

There was a pretty fascinating article in Sports Illustrated today about the backroom negotiations that landed Johan Santana a huge $137.5 million contract from the New York Mets. Apparently, with about 5 minutes to go before the deadline expired, Santana informed the Mets that he wanted $140M, not $135M, and that he was willing to walk away from the deal (and thus pitch one last season for the Twins) and risk his chances with free agency next year. Here's how Tom Verducci puts it in his intro:

Pitcher Johan Santana gave the Mets a preview of his competitiveness last Friday, five minutes before the initial deadline to their contract negotiations. With the two sides just $5 million apart, Santana personally informed Mets owner Fred Wilpon that he was walking away from $135 million, according to two sources familiar with the negotiations.
Now, here's the problem I have with that: the word "competitive." Why use that word? Imagine, for a moment, that we're not talking about a fairly non-controversial guy like Johan Santana, but are instead talking about Terrell Owens or Randy Moss. Would a sportswriter use a word like "competitive" to describe those antics? No, they'd use a word like "greed" or would launch into a spiel about how players these days just don't appreciate all they get from sports.

It goes directly to one of my pet peeves about sportswriters, the way that they take the exact same trait and filter it through their own sense about a player. Thus Bret Favre throws a really stupid interception, but because sportswriters and the media in general love the guy, he's just labeled as a tough competitor who sometimes takes risks because he just loves winning so damn much. Then another quarterback, say, Eli Manning (before he won the Super Bowl and taught a grateful nation how to love again), does the exact same thing, and they tsk tsk about how he just doesn't have it and wonder if he'll ever be free of those mental lapses.

I'm sure this tendency is common to all humanitiy, after all, we are more prone to overlook flaws (or at least justify them) in people we love, and prone to demonize the same traits in others. Nevertheless, it's a little annoying to have it illustrated so clearly.