After Winslow blows out his knee, media are ones taking a beating

OTHER VOICES

June 07, 2005|By Rick Morrissey

EVERY ONCE in a while, tired of being bludgeoned beyond recognition but mindful of not complaining too much about the pesky loss of blood, we wretched media types gather up enough strength to ask if, perhaps, we aren't being treated a touch unfairly.

When you consistently rank behind attorneys, carcinogens, North Korea, tsunamis and liver-flavored Popsicles in public-opinion polls, you know it's in your best interest to tiptoe at all times.

The other day, Kellen Winslow Sr. stopped long enough in front of reporters to defend his son, Kellen Jr., a wonderful football player when he's not losing control of his high-powered motorcycle and blowing out his knee in the process.

Winslow Jr., a Cleveland Browns tight end, will miss the 2005 season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but his father did not at all appreciate that the media covered his son's wheelie-popping accident as, you know, a story.

"You blow it out of proportion," Winslow Sr. said. "This Jerry Springer mentality of journalism, you guys are better than that. You should be ashamed of yourselves."

Let's see. For days after the accident, the Winslow family refused to disclose the extent of Winslow Jr.'s injuries to anyone, which is its prerogative. So the media were left to try to figure out what happened during the accident and how badly the poor kid was hurt. It's not a pleasant job, but it was no small story. Winslow Jr. was the Browns' first-round draft pick in 2004, a key element in the team's plans and one of the reasons fans buy those expensive tickets that fund those big salaries.

The Winslows hid under the frayed cloak of "privacy" that so many athletes use these days.

It works like this: An athlete releases a statement, usually written by his agent, asking that the media respect his privacy. When Michael Jordan was briefly going through a divorce a few years back (he and his wife later reconciled), his lawyer asked that we respect His Airness' privacy. At the time, I couldn't remember one instance when the endorsement-glutted Jordan had respected the public's privacy.

Likewise, you don't become a high-profile football player, suffer a stupid, self-induced injury that will cost you a season, and then ask for privacy. The real world doesn't work like that.

"He made a mistake," Winslow Sr. said. "You made it a circus. Remember when you were 21? A human being at 21 makes mistakes. He's not a piece of property."

Funny thing about that: That's exactly what Winslow Jr. is. He's the Browns' piece of property, as much a piece of property as a tackling dummy. It's why the team is looking into recouping some of the $5 million in bonuses it already has paid its tight end/stuntman.

If you were making big bucks, you might pay attention to the contract clause that says you are to avoid "dangerous activities." Then again, you might not, especially if you are 21.

Fact: 21-year-olds are apt to do dumb things. But that fact doesn't make those dumb things any less dumb or any more dismissible. Winslow Sr. thinks otherwise. He apparently thinks his son's terrible accident shouldn't have been covered with the thoroughness it was. I suspect he thinks it shouldn't have been covered at all.

But mostly what Winslow Sr. thinks - and I want to make sure I properly capture the nuances of his thoughts - is that we're a bunch of blood-sucking, bottom-feeding, vulture-wannabes.

We're used to this. A decent segment of the country believes the real villain in Watergate was not former President Richard M. Nixon but former FBI official W. Mark Felt, who last week revealed he was Deep Throat, the source for Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein during the scandal.

In a column last week, conservative columnist Pat Buchanan referred to the two reporters as "stenographers." If Woodward and Bernstein were stenographers, then Rodgers and Hammerstein were disc jockeys.

Media members didn't lose control of Winslow Jr.'s motorcycle. We are bloody and bruised, though, as usual.

Rick Morrissey is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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