Say “analytics” in front of any scribe who covers the NFL and watch the world burn.
You’ll be met by a nauseating word dump of football-speak that might as well have appeared in the script for “Draft Day,” a movie so poorly written you’d think it was a Rick Reilly joint.
Blurting “analytics” in a room full of football writers is akin to a white person in a Quentin Tarantino movie dropping the n-word for the 100th time on screen. It makes people uncomfortable. It makes people angry. And worst of all, it makes an NFL franchise so often ripe for justified ridicule deflect shots that are, for once, devoid of merit.
The Cleveland Browns made waves this offseason when they fired the Dynamic Bald Duo of Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer and replaced them with Sashi Brown, Person Who Was Educated at Harvard, and Paul DePodesta, Person Who Was Depicted By Jonah Hill in “Moneyball.” In the months that followed since those hirings, NFL media members have worked tirelessly to paint the Browns new front office as a handful of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets with faces, and in doing so, have robbed readers of their God-given right to expand their brains.
It continually befuddles me how many people seem to think analytics means something more than using data and advanced statistics to further inform decisions, like it’s some spiritual, glasses-wearing being floating around the offices of Berea demanding people to make radical decisions or risk being disintegrated. And it’s disheartening, embarrassing even, to see writers take the low hanging fruit and write about it in the laziest way possible.
Take Tony Grossi for instance, the aging Browns beat reporter who still uses a feather tip with ink to write his hot takes by flickering candlelight. The above tweet made me laugh out loud. “The analytics would say to.” What a unbelievable sentence, as if analytics and common sense were the Atlantic and Pacific ocean in distance between their meanings.
Mike Klis, who covers the Denver Broncos, fired off this gem, treating analytics like it was a litter of pet monkeys the Browns had recently acquired and now keep in a cage, only to be let out when major personnel decisions are to be made.
Then, this, from CBS Sports NFL reporter Jason La Canfora, who couldn’t resist a chance to take a shot at “The Stat Boys” in a recent article about the Browns quarterback preference in the upcoming NFL Draft.
And while things between Jackson and the front office haven’t exactly gotten off to a sterling start (as the Browns’ free-agent foibles displayed), in this instance he and The Stat Boys might actually be on the same page.
The Stat Boys? If I were Mark Ruffalo, I’d have morphed into an angry green monster. Without research, without any desire to enlighten his audience as to what “analytics” is in the context of an NFL front office, La Canfora reaches for the laziest sentence he can, relegating his prose to a high-schooler on a vendetta against a calculus student.
The Browns don’t deserve even the smallest benefit of the doubt. But they do deserve to be covered and understood by reporters looking to do more than fire away at a concept apparently too complex for them to understand.
It doesn’t matter if the Browns new, data-assisted approach ends up working or not. And any criticism lobbed against a franchise that’s mascot is a god damn helmet is always fair. But criticizing something without attempting to understand it punches a central tenant of journalism right in the face. And it’s getting old.