A recent column has seen him give us a blow-by-blow of an argument between him and another man, during which our corpulent hero called his adversary out on a perceived transgression and swore at him, but when asked to step outside to settle it like a man, went for the nearest escape hatch, hiding behind his wife and a female employee of the hotel he was staying at. Another saw him finally take a position on an issue, and have it blow up in his face, when he vowed to run an ultra-marathon if Terrell Owens was signed to a contract by the Cincinnati Bengals. Once the contract was announced, our man in the field declared he would be a Promise Keeper, except could he please run only a half-marathon instead, in like a year from now? How about if he mooched some money from his readers and donated the proceeds to a charity, would that square the deal?
These misdemeanours might be overlooked if Mr. King fulfilled his purported purpose, which is to keep us informed on the NFL. Instead the Ben Roethlisberger story has shown him to be useless if not actually deceitful and craven.
In the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated, the cover story penned by Mr. King recounted a roundtable discussion between him, Mr. Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Ryan on the state of the game and what it’s like to be an NFL quarterback. This was meant to be a frank discussion that took us behind the scenes, but it instead, in hindsight, turned into a puff-piece. In the introductory paragraphs, Mr. King set the scene and described the participants for us:
What were they like? My impressions: Roethlisberger is as opinionated as a two-time Super Bowl champ should be. Palmer is thoughtful and honest. Romo is serious, smart and circumspect. Rodgers and Ryan are bright but were reserved, likely in deference to their more experienced colleagues. "This was great," Palmer said as the quarterback summit broke up. "We ought to do it more often." Same time next year? I'm in.
Fast-forward to August 17, 2010, after the Big Ben Night in Milledgeville story was well and truly broken. Our hero took a long look around, saw that everyone of his colleagues had taken a step forward, and emboldened, took two steps and told this anecdote in a story he posted on the magazine website.
Thirteen months ago, I convened five NFL quarterbacks in a room in Lake Tahoe to have a wide-ranging discussion for Sports Illustrated on the state of the position today. But it almost didn't happen the way I wanted it. The day before we were to sit down in a restaurant overlooking a golf course, Ben Roethlisberger, who had won his second Super Bowl a few months earlier, told me he wasn't going to do it. Didn't want to. Was too busy. I told him he agreed to do it, and he had to keep his word -- months of planning and arm-twisting had gone into it. So Roethlisberger did it, but he wasn't happy about it. He big-dogged the photographer flown in for the occasion. Roethlisberger didn't give his best effort in the roundtable discussion; he was either texting or talking to one of the other quarterbacks or making calls a good third of the time. He left the room first when it was over, and a couple of us just looked at each other and said, in so many words, "What is wrong with that guy?''
That Mr. King chose to gloss over the fact that Mr. Roethlisberger was a total dick during this process is not surprising. It should be understood that sports reporters are not actual reporters, but rather publicists who earn a living by promoting the sport they cover, thus ensuring greater sales at the newsstand and higher broadcast ratings. Controversy sells to a degree, but hagiographies are preferred. Sports reporters are prisoners of the sport they cover, much like the war correspondents embedded with the troops fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. They are exposed to a lot of information because of their access, but will lose that access if they divulge it.
It is however galling how Peter King positions himself as the ultimate 'insider', and regularly crows about the phone calls and texts he receives from NFL players and executives. This inside info is not for our benefit as readers and consumers. Instead, Mr. King hangs on to these nuggets, and with a moistened finger in the air, gauging the direction the wind is blowing, only doles it out when it is safe and convenient for him. If he was covering baseball, he might by now be letting us in on the fact that Big Mac and Sammy might have been taking “funny vitamins”, as Lenny Dykstra used to put it. Heck, he might as an aside note how Barry Bonds has a somewhat more mesomorphic physique nowadays.
It doesn’t reflect very well on Mr. King that he piled on Big Ben after everyone else did. The time to do some journalism would have been in the original article, possibly in a sidebar, and what the heck, maybe some background research in Pittsburgh. There might now be, say, a thousand fewer people in Pittsburgh regretting having bought a #7 Steelers jersey.
What also doesn’t reflect well on him is that he decided to kick Mr. Roethlisberger once he was already down. The time to call him a prick was when he was on top of the world and being a prima donna, not now when he is an easy target.