In a college philosophy class, my professor once asked the students, “Why do we put people on pedestals?”
The question created a spirited conversation that took up nearly all 50 minutes of the class time, then the instructor offered his opinion, “To knock ‘em off.”
I know I was among a lot of students that day that walked out of class thinking about his assertion. I have thought about it often since, and seen it play out in life. It may not be the only reason we elevate some folks above others in the media and our communities, but once they are perched on top of the heap, sure enough they become targets for ridicule.
Today, with social media, this has never been more true. Whimps with a Facebook account can spiel on and on about their likes and dislikes without any exposure to real life. I suspect most people that spend time knocking others online have very few personal accomplishments to boast.
Celebrity status is particularly vulnerable to unhinged attacks. When I was working for the Oakland Raiders in the 1970’s, Howard Cosell was both the most liked and most hated journalist. He was a forerunner to the knowledge that what was required to produce ratings was either end of the spectrum.
Today, entire programs and networks are geared to generate controversy in search of ratings. Journalists once called “Shock Jocks” have free reign to pass along any message without being tethered to any truths … protected, according to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, by First Amendment rights and freedom of speech.
A couple recent celebrities in the sports world that have both been at the top of the pedestal and benefited from the Howard Cosell rule are Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Here is a pair that a few years ago could have provoked an argument in Boston if ever a negative word was spoken, and blend with a room full of nodding heads in Florida when their crimes and punishments are voiced.
The pair combined for as many Super Bowl wins as any other franchise, six, and last year with his new team, Tom Brady distinguished himself as having won more Super Bowls than any franchise!
While Brady independently carried on the winning tradition the two had established in Foxboro, Belichick’s 7-9 record with the Patriots last season marked his first losing campaign since 2000, his first season with New England.
This week, Belichick turned his fortunes over to an untested rookie quarterback when he released Cam Newton, who spent only one full season with the Patriots after nine years in Carolina that included guiding the Panthers to Super Bowl 50. The move turns the offense over to first round draft choice Mac Jones, and tells us a lot about how Belichick is viewing this season and those to follow.
Not as a criticism, but rather an acknowledgement, this move clearly reveals a mentor in search of the big prize and long-term benefits, while surrendering the ultimate prize for seasons beyond this one.
Do you think Belichick, in the year after Brady demonstrated how much of their duo he was, is looking for quick atonement? No. No retribution at the cost of long-term gain is necessary. The Patriots are not championship quality across the board this season, and in the year or more that it will take to get the Patriots back to championship form does not coincide with Newton’s career trajectory.
If the team gets good in two or three years, Newton may no longer be able to contribute to their success. Jones, conversely, would be entering the prime of his career, one the Patriots could ride for a decade or more.
When Jones and the Patriots are riding high again, Brady will be fishing off the Florida coast and Belichick will be leading his next generation of greatness.
I’m not knocking Belichick when I tell you there is zero chance for the Patriots this season. I thought it when they had Newton on the roster and now that New England is under the direction of a rookie quarterback, it appears the Patriots coach agreed with me.
How many rookie quarterbacks have won the Super Bowl?
Same number now as next year, zero.
Erase the Patriots from consideration without knocking Bilichick off his pedestal.