Let’s begin with Peter King on Twitter last night. If you hate-follow poor Peter on Twitter, as I do, you know that his stream consists largely of mangled replies and random compliments to entire towns—Helluva main street you got there, Hanover, New Hampshire!—and last night was no different. The Sports Illustrated columnist told this remarkable non-story about Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen:
OK, now we all agree that’s the lamest story in human history, outside of Beowulf. A man went into Starbucks and got a cup of coffee and they put his name on it. Fin. You will not find anyone to option the film rights to this story. In fact, it’s not even NEW! Peter has a longer, even duller version of it here. In Peter King’s twisted mind, this story serves as a shining example of HIGH CHARACTER, the kind of shit that old-school sportswriters never cease fawning over. No funny names for that Cutch, fella! He ordered his coffee with a splash of Jetertude and nothing else!
Since this is Twitter, people dumped all over Peter for telling such a lame, shit-ass story. And in turn, Peter essentially waved his white flag and declared SNARK the winner:
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I hope you’re happy, Internet. You broke a good man. I can picture Peter shaking his head before closing up his MacBook Air and ordering another Shock Top from the Acela attendant.
But here's the thing: Peter King's entire career has been built on being exactly this sort of Pollyanna nonsense. It's not a bad habit; it's a worldview. He is the Billy Bush of the NFL. I know this because I've been reading Peter since I was a kid, and NOTHING about his style has changed. At all. Take any MMQB column from 2003 (strangely, many links to his old cnnsi.com columns are now dead), swap out the old player names for new player names, and it'll read like 2014 Peter King. He is the league leader in glad-handing, a guy who is nice to everyone because everyone is either a contact or a potential contact, and contacts lead to precious MMQB nuggets. (Nuggets are the currency of Peter King's world, and the pursuit and acquisition of them can lead to a certain boorish obliviousness on King's part: "Rey Maualuga checking into Betty Ford later this month, by the way, according to Adam Schefter. Good nugget.")
Sure, he can be occasionally critical of players and management, but only within certain consensus-approved bounds and never with enough gusto to burn any useful bridges. Remember, this is a dude who once praised Roger Goodell for doing pushups in his office! He knows where his bread is buttered. Just this Monday, with the NFL still very much in the middle of a public meltdown, Peter was already back to carrying water for the league. He led with this:
The adrenaline was still flowing for Russell Wilson an hour after a game that was supposed to be high drama, and actually was.
"The NFL needed this game," Wilson said.
I watched that game and enjoyed the hell out of it, but who gives a shit if it was good for the NFL? I didn't watch the end of that game thinking, "Boy, this is just the kind of game that will serve as a handy diversion for all the suits in New York who fucked a monkey the past two weeks!" Peter King, though, is paid to see the best in football at all times. Deeper down in Monday's column, there was this:
The Ravens seem immune to the tornado outside their organization. In the two games since the TMZ video made the Rice story explode anew, Baltimore has hammered Pittsburgh and come back on the road to beat the improved Browns. "We've got high-character people who fight, and I'm proud of them," Harbaugh said. "We're the Ravens, and I know the people we have. We stand for something." I've heard Harbaugh say things like that since he took over as coach in 2008, and I'm sure people roll their eyes about it, particularly now, with the questions about how they handled the Rice matter. But Harbaugh is a lot like Tom Coughlin in that regard. He believes what he believes, and he doesn't care if you think it's corny or outmoded. To him, it's real.
This is a classic PK technique. He won't ever roll his eyes at John Harbaugh's slimy bullshit. He'll set up a straw group of theoretical eye-rollers, and then he'll praise Harbaugh for ignoring those haters and buying into his own reality. You don't have to like John Harbaugh, but by God you have to respect his irrational stubbornness! That helps give PK the illusion of being "balanced" while preserving his ties to the Ravens for information. Who do you think was his source for his original Ray Rice report?
You will notice that King is among a small group of NFL reporters—Mort, Schefter, Jay Glazer—who are information brokers first and foremost. They're all rivals, but also all chums. They are a club. They are not paid for their opinions. (Glazer told me as much when I profiled him last winter.) They leave that shit to their colleagues, or only offer up opinions on people they know are safe to rip. And when Peter doesn't care for general consensus, he'll play the sincerity card and chide you for being part of the internet mob:
I think if you're waiting for me to call for Roger Goodell to be fired, you'll have to wait a while. I'm not into mob rule either.
Dude, a bunch of NFL front offices types knew what was on that Ray Rice tape (and likely saw it), and have spent two full weeks trying to convince everyone that they didn't, and that they deserve to remain in power. Who's the fucking mob, again?
Let's see what the Mueller report says about who knew exactly what about the Ray Rice video in the league office, and when they knew it, and about whether Goodell was badly misguided in his original ruling in the case or there were other factors at play.
Again, look at Peter's language. His line here is that Goodell may have been "misguided"—as if some evil spirit had possessed Goodell and forced him to suspend Ray Rice for just two games—and that if you want Goodell fired for his stupidity, well, then, you better slow down there, chief. You will not find someone in less of a rush to judgment than Peter King talking about any owner or league official. He has spent his whole adult life straddling the line between journalist and advocate, and little shits like Albert Breer have followed in his wake. He is the template for how the NFL expects to be treated by the mainstream press, a toady who approaches the league and its ownership and management classes with the presumption that everyone is operating in good faith and the best of intentions, even though the preponderance of the owners got where they are today by avoiding either. And, alongside Roger Goodell, it has become one of the biggest running jokes in all of sport. Tell your barista.