Friday, December 13, 2013

Post Sports Watch: Failing to Put McPhee and Grunfeld on the Hot Seat, While Obsessing Over the Redskins

When it comes to determining whether George McPhee and Ernie Grunfeld will remain as general managers of their respective teams, Ted Leonsis is the ultimate decider. But the local media also plays a role. The media doesn't hire and fire general mangers and coaches of sports teams, but their job is to hold those GMs and coaches accountable. They're supposed to analyze and criticize their performance, just as the media is supposed to do when it comes to the president or the mayor or Metro. And yet in the last two and a half weeks, when the Caps' and Wizards GMs both deserved to have the media put them on the "hot seat," the Washington Post Sports section didn't even make their seats lukewarm.

Let's got back to Monday, Nov. 25, a pretty bad day for D.C. sports teams. It started off with the revelation that Martin Erat had requested that the Caps trade him -- making a trade that was controversial at the time it was made ook like a disaster now (considering that the chances of the Caps getting much of a return on a player who has asked to be traded, has a salary cap hit of $4.5 million and has scored one goal in his 37 games with Washington are low.) Later that night, reports came out that Bradley Beal had a stress injury in his right leg, the same leg (but in a different place) where he had a stress injury last spring which caused him to sit out for four months. The troubling thing about this injury is that a player who was only a couple months removed from a stress injury had, to that point in the season played the most minutes -- and run the most distance -- of any player in the entire NBA. And then the Redskins were crushed by the 49ers, and any faint playoff hopes they had were extinguished.

Of course, anyone who is breathing in the Washington, D.C. area is aware that the Post has covered the aftermath of that Redskins loss (and the next two) extensively, to say the least. Since that day, there have been a total of 23 articles written by Post columnists about the Redskins --- in just 17 days! (And in the time it took me to write this sentence, that number might have risen...) Meanwhile, the number of columnists weighing in on the Erat and Beal situations were zero. (For the record, in this time period, there were two Post columns about the Wizards, one about Marcin Gortat and the other, ironically, about the injury problems of Nene. As for the Caps, that number is still zero--even with a four-goal Ovechkin performance Tuesday night -- although Tom Boswell did write a piece about Ovechkin which appeared in the print edition the day of the Erat trade demand.)

Now of course, the Post covered both the Erat and Beal situations as news stories, with articles in the next day's paper by the beat writers and some additional material on the team blogs. But there was a noticeable lack of any followup by any of the paper's columnists or any other writers on these topics. A good sports section is supposed to have columnists who ask questions that go beyond what the beat reporters are reporting, asking additional questions face-to-face to those running the teams or rhetorically in the newspaper -- calling out those GMs when calling out is called for. Why exactly did George McPhee make this trade in the first place -- giving away a hot young prospect to add a veteran to a team that, at the time the trade was made, no serious fan of the team felt had much of a chance to go anywhere in last year's playoffs? How disappointing is a trade that looks like it will wind up both not helping the Caps in the present and hurting them in the future? As for Ernie Grunfeld, why did he construct a roster that, as Kyle Weidie of TruthAboutIt and Mike Prada of Bullets Forever point out, required a player coming off a serious injury to play more minutes than necessary because there aren't enough ball-handlers on the team? I think these are really interesting questions. Why is no columnist at the Post asking them?

(For the record, at Tuesday night's Post Sports Live event at Hill Country BBQ, I asked Mike Wise about the Post's failure to hold McPhee accountable, or even criticize him, for the disaster of the Erat trade. He said it was a fair criticism of him and his fellow columnists-- although he didn't promise to write about it either. He also said he believed if McPhee didn't get to the Eastern Conference finals this year, he thinks it's time for a change.)

Yeah, yeah, I know, there's a lot of drama at Redskins Park. That's fine--of course it's an interesting story, and the Redskins are the most popular team in town. They should get the most media coverage. But should the Redskins media coverage be so overwhelming that important stories involving other teams in town should just be ignored? The Redskins game against the Chiefs, on a day when everyone was home because there was an ice storm going on, received a 20.7 television rating. That's a good TV rating, the highest rated show on television in Washington last week. But in context, it's actually pretty terrible. The local NFL team's game is the highest rated TV show in just about every NFL city every week, and there were only five cities, at most, that had lower ratings for their team's games on Sunday. Three of them were what most people would consider three of the worst sports cities in the country: Atlanta, Tampa and Miami. The other two were New York (where the audience is split between two teams) and St. Louis. That's it. Meanwhile, places like New Orleans and Pittsburgh routinely get numbers double that, well into the 40s, even when their teams aren't particularly good.

There's much talk about how intense the D.C. sports fan is about the Redskins, to the point that nothing else matters -- Washington is like an SEC college football town, according to 980's Kevin Sheehan - but the numbers just don't back that up. Unless the Redskins are beating the Cowboys in the last game of the season to win the NFC East, TV ratings for the Redskins, compared to other cities, are nothing more than middle-of-the pack in an average week. And yet, when you look at the topics the columnists have written about since November 1, and notice that the Redskins have been written about 39 times, while the Wizards have received five columns, the Nats three and the Caps two -- yes, a team in the offseason has been written about more than the Caps, a team currently playing -- it makes one scratch their head.

On Sunday at 1 p.m., the Redskins play the Falcons in Atlanta, and Kirk Cousins will start. It's a big local sports story, and I'm sure multiple Post columnists will be there and write about it. At 3 p.m., the Capitals will play the Philadelphia Flyers in Verizon Center, in their first meeting since the ugly incident last month in which Ray Emery assaulted Braden Holtby. That's a big local sports story, too. Will anyone from the local newspaper besides Post Caps beat writer Katie Carerra be there to cover it? And if someone does come by, hopefully they can corner George McPhee and ask him a few questions about the Erat trade, too.


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