On Monday, Derek Anderson was scolded for smiling on camera during the Cardinals' loss to the 49ers, leading to his "Nothing is funny to me" tirade. Ex-NFL player Nate Jackson defends his former colleague from Jon Gruden and all the rest of the "emotionally stunted football pedants."
What's funny? What's so funny, Derek? What's so fucking funny?!
The fact that someone actually cares that Derek Anderson and his teammate shared a laugh — or was it just a smile? — on the sideline the other night is itself laughable. Sure, they were getting rolled by the Niners. And yes, Derek Anderson was playing like shit. But where do people get off trying to gauge his competitive spirit from an image on a TV screen? Every single NFL quarterback I have ever met is fiercely competitive, almost annoyingly so. Derek Anderson is no different. We were teammates for one week in Cleveland last summer. Not long enough to learn his life story, but long enough to realize that he, like every other quarterback in the league, takes pride in what he does and takes his job seriously. He knows that, good or bad, the responsibility for the Cardinals' offensive performance falls squarely on his shoulders.
Blame for this non-issue being an issue starts with the Monday Night Football production team. You see that you have caught the quarterback in a candid moment. Exercise some restraint here. Maybe they saw someone trip and fall. That's always funny. Even in a blowout loss. Even at a funeral. But we're talking about Jon Gruden here, and to Gruden, diabolical football robot blowhard, losing a football game is worse than someone dying. This is not hyperbole. He's the kind of football coach you don't want to play for. Sure, he knows his shit. But he's also a guy who'll throw a player under the bus on national television just for not being adequately sad-faced. You saw what he did to Derek Anderson. Imagine how he treated his players behind closed doors.
Gruden's little bit of social psychology got the ball rolling, and a clever reporter took it from there. In the postgame exchange, all you see is Derek's face, so we are unable to get a good idea of who we are dealing with. For the record, this is the guy, Kent Somers:
(Why the smile? Something funny, Kent? Your industry is in shambles. What's so funny about that?)
Referencing Gruden's remarks, Somers pointedly reminded Anderson that this wasn't a pointed question, that he just wanted to know what was so funny. What's funny is the way many sports journalists have convinced themselves that they know what it takes to be a successful athlete. Hunkered down over computers, poring through statistics, biting their fingernails, and in this case, buoyed by the words of a former coach (another non-athlete), the journalist truly believes that Anderson's smiling on the sideline during a loss actually matters, that it says something profound about his will to win. I witnessed a similar situation in Denver with Jake Plummer and a local media that couldn't hide their John Elway-induced boners. Nothing Jake ever did was Elway enough: the way he played, the way he looked, the way he talked. This media obsession essentially swayed public opinion away from Jake and his three straight playoff appearances, and he was benched mid-season with a 7-4 record. The Broncos haven't made the playoffs since.
Anderson has played in hundreds of football games in his life. He knows what it feels like to win, and he knows what it feels like to lose. What would be a more appropriate response? What would Gruden and Somers rather see? Tears? A thrown Gatorade bucket? Being able to share a moment, comical or otherwise, with a teammate on the sideline is a quintessential sporty experience. Players go through a lot together. They see the same things on a day-to-day basis. Monday night, Derek Anderson and Deuce Lutui saw something funny. Let them laugh.
Instead, a grown man was provoked into losing his cool and dropping shitbombs all over the airwaves. So now the manufactured perception is that the quarterback not only doesn't give a fuck about his team losing, but that he can't keep his cool either. So let's run his ass out of town because a couple of emotionally stunted football pedants can't relax and laugh it off. Meanwhile, in his second year as head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs, frequent laugher Raheem Morris has his team playing better than any Gruden-coached team has in years. Now that's funny.