Hold athletes, writers to a higher standard

Ed Desk Blog

By: Jonathan Munshaw, Editor-in-Chief

When Greg Hardy was signed by the Dallas Cowboys, the mayor of Dallas, Mike Rawlings, said publicly that the signing was a “shot in the gut.”

Hardy was found guilty last spring of threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend, but Hardy requested a jury trial. While waiting for the trial, the charges were dropped when his ex-girlfriend refused to cooperate with the district attorney’s office and after she received a financial settlement from Hardy.

“…At some point, being a sports fan gets trumped by being a father, husband and wanting to do what’s right for women, so this is not a good thing. I don’t think I’m going to be buying Hardy jerseys any time soon,” Rawlings told reporters last week.

Hardy was a free agent for the better part of the offseason because teams were weary of his off-the-field problems. Ray Rice, who was seen in security footage on an elevator punching his now-wife, is still unemployed despite having four 1,000-yard seasons under his belt in the NFL.

So I’m wondering what compelled The San Francisco Examiner to hire Jay Mariotti, a sports columnist who is eventually going to be asked to write on these national sports issues that often delve into criminal activity.

Mariotti hasn’t been nationally employed since two 2010 incidents involving charges of domestic violence and stalking of his then-girlfriend.

He pleaded no contest to stalking and assault charges in exchange for a judge reducing his sentence to community service and probation. A court did eventually expunge those charges from his record in 2013, but the charges led to ESPN removing Mariotti from being a regular panelist on the show “Around the Horn.”

Following Mariotti’s hiring at The Examiner, Mark Segal Kemp at SF Weekly, the sister publication of The Examiner, wrote an editorial comparing Mariotti to Hunter S. Thompson, one of the greatest American journalists of all time.

“Of course we know about Mariotti’s troubled legal history. We know he was accused of domestic violence and that he pleaded “no contest” and got probation for it. But we didn’t bring Mariotti here to write about domestic violence. We brought him here to write about sports. And he’s a terrific sports writer,” Segal Kemp wrote on March 25.

There is no reason why Hardy or Mariotti should be hired in either of their professions. Yes, Hardy is a talented football player, but there’s no reason to be rewarding people who make these kinds of mistakes with employment.

Mariotti should still be unemployed. When discussing Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson in the NFL, national panelists and sports writers are always urging us to not judge a player just by what they do on the field.

Mariotti needs to be held to that same standard. Just because the editors of SF Weekly and The Examiner believe he’s a good sports writer doesn’t mean they need to employ him.

Segal Kemp went on to write, “SF Weekly’s mission in this city is to uncover heinous crimes and corrupt leaders; to write about food, arts, music, and cultural issues in ways that hopefully give you different perspectives. No holds barred. Mariotti’s sports writing will give you a different perspective. His story in this particular issue will give you a different perspective — on him.”

I’ve never been a fan of Mariotti’s writing, legal issues aside, but I don’t see how Mariotti’s “hot takes” are going to be different than any other sports columnist or writer out there who doesn’t have these legal issues and doesn’t have the reputation of being a general curmudgeon.

Do athletes need to be held to a higher standard? Of course. It’s unacceptable to have any athlete hitting their significant others or to be involved in any sort of legal matter.

But if the analysts who are lobbing these grenades at the athletes can’t make a good name for themselves, it’s impossible to take these things seriously.

No matter what happens with Mariotti, I don’t see how any reader could take him seriously on a number of matters, especially legal ones.

It’s not some courageous move for The Examiner to hire Mariotti despite his past. It’s their inability to go out and actively seek out new writing talent who will likely give smarter and more informed opinions than Mariotti.

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