Friday, January 24, 2014

Is Peyton Manning A Corporate Tool?

This isn't a personal opinion piece about Peyton Manning. This is about how media outlets have power to set the terms of a debate. I watched the end of the Seahawks-49ers game when Richard Sherman made one of the best plays I've ever seen in 30+ years of watching the NFL. I saw him mess with Michael Crabtree a little bit right after the play and then watched him make a "choke" gesture. And of course there was his "interview" with Erin Andrews. Can we really call that an interview? What's an athlete supposed to say in that spot? The expectation is that a player answer with boilerplate nonsense. Sherman went off script, and cue the manufactured debate.

The morning after the game, the talking heads on sports radio were dutifully discussing Sherman and whether he disrespected the game. I listened in confusion. The NFL is entertainment. Many NFL players leave this game BROKE--their bodies destroyed, brains injured, and in a state of financial ruin. So let's not get too high and mighty about the NFL, I thought to myself.

Back to Manning: he got thrown into some of these conversations that initially were about Sherman. Manning was positioned as the "classy" one. Manning apparently is the poster player for how one should conduct himself in the NFL. But why? What is it that he actually does that makes him classy? Is it what he says or doesn't say? Is he classy because he conforms to the expectations of many talking heads? What are the characteristics that make him so attractive to corporate America?

Suppose an influential talking head decided to manufacture a debate about spokespersons for corporations. Imagine a media figure sparking a debate by declaring "Peyton Manning is a corporate tool. He is utterly boring." Picture other talking heads jumping in to agree or disagree with the initial formulation. "Gee Don, I don't think he's a corporate tool at all. Boring? Shut the front door! He's got acting chops! He's hilarious!" It seems to be taken for granted that Manning is a suitable spokesperson. But why exactly is he "relatable" to consumers?

An honest question: is "classy" the default description for a white quarterback who sticks to the script?

I do want to note I've heard some talking heads say positive things about Sherman, and have read pieces that took to Sherman's defense. So I've heard and read several things that present Sherman in a positive light. In the long run, Sherman might even pick up some endorsements. We'll see.

In closing, the point of this piece is to wonder how it gets decided what a term like "classy" means and to whom that kind of label applies. What are the factors that lead talking heads to make subjective judgments like "classy"? Could it ever be the case (maybe it's happened and I missed it) that an influential talking head describe Manning as a tool of corporate America?

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