The unwritten rules are designed to enforce respect on the ballfield, but they carry over into the media, as well. Criticism of players’ ability and effort is expected; they open themselves up to it when they agree to perform in public for vast sums of money.
Crossing into mocking, however, can ruffle some feathers. Jim Rome famously calling Jim Everett “Chris,” or labeling Eric Gagne a “piece of crap” for weeks on end, is one thing; part of a talk-show host’s job description is to incite.
When a sports-news show crosses that line, however, things can get touchy.
Earlier this month, ESPN showed a replay of Giants catcher Bengie Molina trying to score when Marlins pitcher Ricky Nolasco overthrew third base. A full minute of the 1:12 highlight package was devoted to Molina’s effort—including a slow-motion replay with a Chariots of Fire-esque theme playing in the background. Afterward, the anchor offered Molina a “slow clap,” he said, “just for making the effort.” (Watch it here.)
Molina was suitably offended. “When I was growing up, respect was the most important thing to my father,” he wrote on his blog. “That’s what he talked about every day . . . You respect your parents and your teachers and your fellow human beings. . . . You can say I’m the slowest guy in baseball or in all of sports or in the entire world. I don’t take issue with that because I AM the slowest guy. I have always been the slowest guy. I can’t challenge that criticism. But ESPN’s intention was not to criticize but to humiliate.”
Henry Schulman, who handles the Giants beat for the San Francisco Chronicle, weighed in, writing, “The media don’t have to like certain players. They can criticize players, but to show that kind of disrespect to a player such as Molina, who has been a Major League catcher for more than 12 seasons, who owns a World Series ring, who shepherds what might be the best starting rotation in baseball, is beyond belief.”
The same concept holds true in mainstream news. It’s why Fox News goes to such lengths—believably or not—to claim that the high percentage of opinions on the network are delivered by pundits, not news anchors.
The distinction is an important one. It’s why when ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption mocked Molina’s speed last year after he was nearly run over by a racing sausage in Milwaukee—“Whose agility were you more impressed by,” asked a reader comment read aloud on the air, “Molina’s or the sausuge’s?”—nobody said a word.
“All I can do is play the way I always have—with respect and professionalism,” wrote Molina. “It’s shame that ESPN, a once great network, won’t have any idea what I’m talking about.”