Something fascinating happened after the Ravens' 28-12 loss to the Titans on Saturday night. Droves of media members warned us of what they called the inevitable. They told us that the world would turn against Baltimore's second-year quarterback, Lamar Jackson, saying his season meant nothing, he wouldn't survive long-term in the NFL, or he'd be forever incapable of winning the big one. The problem is, hardly anybody of note was saying any of those things at all.
The overwhelming response from sports media was to protect Lamar Jackson from a narrative that never even existed in the first place. Most think his 2019 season was incredible, most love his personality and most appreciate that he's just completed his 2nd year in the NFL. So, why the intemperate rush to kill the straw man? Because, Lamar Jackson's the media's new darling, duh! In this hyper-polarized climate, they were sending out a flare, getting out ahead of this one: You're either with us, or against us. Which, in politics makes much more sense than it does in sports. I don't understand the unsmiling attitude when it comes to athletic debates. Is it really that serious?
Nevertheless, I have a theory about the mother-bear attitude toward Jackson.
We've seen the media go into conserve-and-defend mode before, in the name of a good story. When Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double en route to winning NBA MVP after Kevin Durant left him for Golden State, those who criticized his play were called "hot-take artists". Westbrook's Thunder went on to lose 4-1 to the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs that year, and video evidence came out showing Westbrook stealing rebounds from teammates. It didn't matter. It was the perfect story for the media to sink their teeth into. Kevin Durant ditched his one-time brother, Russell Westbrook was the last remaining from Oklahoma City's big three, and he was out for revenge against the basketball world. The media would protect that narrative at all costs, and if you dared question Westbrook's intentions, they'd have no problem painting you with a scarlet letter.
This is what I believe is happening with Lamar Jackson, and it started with this:
As soon as Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian uttered those words, "wide receiver", Jackson became the media's new Westbrook. The perfect redemption story. For so long, the NFL's told us that being a run-first quarterback isn't sustainable long term, and Jackson would be the first to change that reality, rubbing dirt on Bill Polian's legacy along the way. The perfect redemption story. Naturally, sports media members at large decided to join the ride, even shaming Polian for selecting Russell Wilson as the NFL 1st team All-Pro quarterback over Jackson in early January.
The problem is, Lamar Jackson throwing two interceptions and losing by 16 to a wildcard team isn't the way it was supposed to end. Their stories were written, narratives formed, realities settled. And what do we do when cognitive dissonance sets in? We lash out, and look for blame. The media looked for its usual suspects. The unholy, dissenting voices. The "hot-takers". The unagreeables. Where are they?