If Aaron Rodgers goes to the Jets, the New York media will have a field day
One of the most vicious, and perhaps hilarious, photos I've ever seen happened when I first moved to New York in the early 1990s, about to begin what would be a nearly 15-year career of covering the NFL there. The photo was an instructive moment, one that is relevant now, as it seems Aaron Rodgers is on a path to join the Jets and enter a savage media universe
Ray Handley had replaced Bill Parcells as head coach of the Giants. Handley's tenure was an unmitigated disaster and one of the reasons why was because Handley had no clue how to deal with the New York media. Parcells both intimidated and charmed the media; Handley was scared by it.
At one point, Handley canceled his news conference on the same day it was announced that quarterback Phil Simms needed elbow surgery. Handley made this decision after more than four dozen members of the media showed up.
In response to Handley's mishandling the moment, one New York tabloid published a picture of Handley's empty chair. Another did something that was so over-the-top I still remember it to this day. It ran a picture of Handley's face, with a gas gauge on his forehead, and the needle on the gauge was on empty.
“In regards to the media, I think it was just an unknown,” Handley said then. “Most of the other things with regards to the job, I felt like I knew what to expect. But dealing with the media on an everyday basis was an unknown for me. I don’t know if it’s that difficult, but it’s more time-consuming than I had anticipated when I took the job.”
The New York media was Twitter before Twitter. Almost maniacal in you-got-owned culture before it would become more popular decades later. Think of memes but instead of on your phone, it's on the back page.
That hasn't changed since Handley and that is what Rodgers, skin as thick as one-ply, might be walking into.
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I've covered the NFL in Dallas, Boston, and Washington, and there are definitely other tough markets like Chicago, but New York, to me, is the toughest because of the sheer number of people that cover the teams and the overall aggressiveness of the reporters.
The criticism Rodgers has faced over the years in Green Bay isn't even in the same universe of what could happen in New York. The beat writers in Green Bay are hardworking and smart. They are also traditional media sources. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel isn't going to put Rodgers on its cover with an empty gas can for a head (unfortunately).
The NFL writers in New York are also extremely diligent and good at their jobs. They will be fair to Rodgers. The problem will come when things go wrong — and they will.
Some players in New York become immensely bothered by the negative coverage, others don't care. Rodgers is notoriously thin-skinned. His skin has the consistency of a cell membrane. It's not even controversial to say this. It's a well-known fact. He's a diva, deflects blame and holds grudges. He has grudges that go back to the Pleistocene Age. One mild piece of criticism, one cross word, one thing that he considers disloyal, and you're on his list, and that list stretches from Green Bay to Alpha Centauri.
There was less of a price to pay for that behavior in Green Bay, but if he acts that way in New York, he will get absolutely obliterated by the media.
If Rodgers had lied in New York about getting vaccinated the way he did to the Green Bay media, it would have fueled some biting headlines on the back (and front) pages.
The writers in New York can be scathing but they are only part of the problem possibly facing Rodgers. The writers don't design those back pages and I'm here to tell you those pages can be absolutely relentless. While the power of print newspapers has waned in New York (and everywhere else), they are still sometimes a remarkable sight to behold, and still have some power.
And when those pages target Rodgers — and they will — it will infuriate the quarterback.
One of the other great examples of New York tabloid-ism (and there are so many) was when the New York Daily News and New York Post, after a game where Tom Brady complained about the officiating, both put Brady's face on the body of a baby. The Daily News headline was "CRYBRADY." The baby was wearing diapers with the Patriots logo on it and had chest hair.
This is the same environment, after all, that produced the greatest headline in the history of newspapers. In the 1980s, when a decapitated body was found in a bar, the Post headline read: "HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR." Chef's kiss.
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If Rodgers does go to the Jets, on the field, he will do well. I wouldn't be stunned if he took the team to the playoffs in his first season. The Jets have some significant talent on that roster and a highly intelligent and resourceful head coach in Robert Saleh.
But there's no question that Rodgers will also be polarizing in that locker room. It's who he is. He's one of these people who naturally, with little effort, creates chasms in those spaces.
There was a devastating Bleacher Report story in 2019 that showed just how awful Rodgers can be. Rodgers denied the accuracy of the story, but I believed every word of it. Anyone who knows Rodgers even a little knows he can be exactly that way.
The Jets, if Rodgers goes there, will see that side of him. It's a lock and when they do, those stories will leak out, and get reported on, and the party will begin.
The New York tabloid party.