A Modest Defense of Joe Flacco
Dig, if you will, a picture.
Imagine that you are fresh out of college and hitting the job market. For the sake of argument, let’s say you are journalist. You graduated from a small school but you performed at a high level. You are invited to interview at all the top publications but you keep hearing about this one guy. He went to a bigger school and performed a little better. You have all the raw talent in the world but not the numbers and pedigree that he has. It’s okay, though, it doesn’t bother you. You’re not that kind of person.
You get hired by a relatively new media organization. It has only been around fifteen years or so but in its short time it has had great success. It has won awards and is host to some of the best writers in the business. The owner and editors are excited to have you, are showing you around the office, and you get to meet some of the big guns. You meet guys like Hunter Thompson and Christopher Hitchens (stay with me), guys you had only read but never dreamed of meeting. They are pleasant enough when you meet them, but seem distracted, if maybe uninterested. It’s okay. You’re on top of the world. They show you to your desk and introduce you to your colleagues on your beat and set you off to work.
Not much was expected of you to start. Not because they didn’t believe you had the ability, but because they were aware you were raw. There were finer bits of the job you had to learn. You also heard around the water cooler that you were the company’s second choice. They were really gunning for that more qualified guy. But it’s okay, though. It doesn’t bother you. You’re not that kind of person.
There are two other guys on same beat you’re on showing you the ropes. One is a guy they hired in a similar situation to you about four years ago. He was never quite the success they had hoped for, but they were still holding out. There was a lot of pressure in this section of the media empire. Where Hitch and Hunter wrote was hailed as an unprecedented success. They had become figures above the company in their own right. This led to them be sort of mercurial guys, a bit unhinged, but it is tolerated because of all the work they had done before. Well. It was tolerated.
There is a new editor-in-chief in town. The company had seen some poor performance in recent years due to lackadaisical management. The company brings in a guy who is similar to you. He had never been an editor before at any publication but had been in the business for a while. He was young but came with high praise from everywhere he had worked. He was given the unenviable task of whipping Hitch and Hunter into shape, tampering their egos some and getting them to be better leaders for the company.
The time is coming around where there is a lot of activity on your beat, a lot of things to cover. The editors haven’t had you featured on the homepage/front page yet, but are encouraged by your progress. All the sudden, word breaks that the head writer of your beat quit. He is moving somewhere. Your workload increases, which you don’t mind. Two weeks later, the guy ahead of you gets fired for being caught plagiarizing. That leaves you.
You relish the opportunity, but you aren’t ready. You perform well under fire, but you still make mistakes every so often. Your copies require some editing, you’re not permitted to go as far as you would like to on a topic, you can feel the reigns pulled in on you. You hear more water cooler talk. Hitch and Hunter have been talking shit to the editor-in-chief. They are saying you can’t be trusted. They are saying that they aren’t sure why they are even bothering to build your division, all the firepower the company needs is with them. The editor-in-chief does his best to explain to them that their eggs can’t be in one basket, that Hitch and Hunter aren’t going to be writing like that forever. Hitch and Hunter refuse to listen and keep yammering all year long.
Despite the yammering, the company over-performs in large part due to your steady contribution. Your company was among the best in the industry, but not quite the best. Hitch and Hunter had stellar years and were lauded by critics. There were some rumblings about you as an up-and-comer, but the guy that you were competing for those other jobs with was winning awards with his company. Over there, he was let loose and he thrived. It didn’t bother you, though. You’re not that kind of person.
Over the next several years, it is pretty much rinse and repeat. Your division is improving but it is always dwarfed by the crown jewel headed by Hitch and Hunter. The other guy keeps winning awards with his company, earning critical praise and national recognition. You are grudgingly respected by some, but even despised by some readers. You can’t really think of a reason, but all this time you can’t help but remember that first year where Hitch and Hunter were in the EIC’s ear. They never stopped. There was another guy in your division but not on your beat they liked. They told the EIC to put the focus and resources on him. The EIC had gotten a firmer grip on the company but Hitch and Hunter were still highly esteemed by their peers and readers alike.
The reality however, was that Hitch and Hunter’s performance was fading. Hitch was becoming something of a parody of himself, taking himself far more seriously than anyone else ever had. Hunter went the opposite direction and became even more mercurial. He barely showed up at the office and turned in his copies moments before the deadline. All the while, you remained steady. The EIC kept his faith in you and you appreciated it. It wasn’t like what Hitch and Hunter were doing bothered you, you’re not that kind of person, but it meant something to have someone in your corner.
The next year is your year. Hitch and Hunter had down years with Hitch officially becoming a shell of himself, being forced to check into rehab for most of the year and with Hunter reaching his peak aloofness, dropping a big story here or there but was largely absent. Their division maintained the attention and prestige it had always had, but it was due to the names in the byline rather than performance. All year you remained steady until the story of a lifetime fell into your lap. You knocked it out of the park. You garnered the company more readers and subscribers than ever before. You followed that story through every twist and turn taking readers with you on a journey that they will remember for ages. It was a time of unprecedented success that few writers had ever achieved. It culminated with a Pulitzer prize for your company. Everyone sang your praises.
But, Hitch announced he was retiring. Tributes poured out for him from every direction. Writers wrote of how he inspired them, his past and current editors spoke of his wit and his uncanny ability to turn in a perfect copy. Hunter left the company to work at another publication for a year or so and fizzled out. When everybody looks back on that year, they remember the great success of the company but you’re just a footnote to the triumph of two legends and their last stand. It’s okay though. It doesn’t bother you. You’re not that kind of person.
Several more years pass and you never quite match the success that you had at your peak. Your EIC remains the same but the editors in your division change every year, jerking around the direction in which you are supposed to be going in. The EIC still believes in you but readers are grumbling. Water cooler talk reveals that colleagues thin that you’re overpaid for the success of what really was a brilliant three month span in a nine year career. But what were you supposed to do, not take the money? You do the best you can in the situation you are in, but you aren’t given the necessary resources you need to succeed. The EIC understands, but there isn’t much he can do. He reflects upon his own failures. Maybe he should have let you off the leash sooner, like that other guy more qualified than you at that other company. He never reached the peak you did but has had much greater personal success. You never had the chance that guy did. There are things you have to learn early in your career before they become habits later on, things you can only learn by being allowed to fail. But it’s okay. You understand that you were as a successful as you possibly could have been given the situation. You’re not going to quit. It doesn’t bother you. You’re not that kind of person.
You — Joe Flacco
Editor in Chief — John Harbaugh
Christopher Hitchens — Ray Lewis
Hunter Thompson — Ed Reed
Other more qualified guy — Matt Ryan