By AARON BRACY
It’s easy to criticize when you don’t have to put your name behind it.
Fire the coach, bury the player, call out opposing fans. It happens every day on message boards, chat rooms and various forms of social media.
Believe me, I have no problem with criticism – dishing it or taking it. I’ve been on both sides in more than 15 years writing professionally about sports.
Criticism is part of the deal with sports and life.
“If you are not being criticized, you may not be doing much,” former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once said.
You have to have thick skin to survive in this tough world – and really thick skin if you’re in the public eye as Division I athletes and coaches are.
No, I don’t have any problem with criticism, particularly well-supported opinions that are come to with study, observation and statistics.
What always has bugged me, though, is people who throw darts hiding behind the cloak of anonymity that the Internet provides.
Phil Martelli has taken a beating this season on the St. Joe’s message board. The Hawks coach definitely deserves criticism for failing to get his team performing at its highest level game in and game out this season. Saturday’s 71-59 win over George Washington pulled the Hawks, who were favored to win the Atlantic 10, to an even .500 record in the league. That’s not good enough.
But calling for his firing game after game, as has been the case on the Hawks’ message board this season, is premature and unfair. At least let the season play out before making a full evaluation.
And, if you are calling for his firing, have the guts to put your name behind your statement. That’s the least you can do if you are telling someone they should be unemployed.
Martelli’s players also have been undressed for their struggles. Again, some of the criticism is warranted. Heck, Martelli, himself, has been vocal during many postgame press conferences about his players’ shortcomings and areas that need to be improved.
But the constant bashing of Hawks players by some of their fans – again without name attribution – does little other than sapping confidence from them. Again, I have no problem with criticizing players, though I generally try to keep in mind that these are not professionals when I’m writing for Philahoops. But if you’re going to rip apart someone’s game, put your name behind it.
I know what is said. I read the St. Joe’s message board every day and frequent all of the message boards of the city teams often. There often is important information put forth on the boards and it helps me keep on top of news and notes about the various teams. There also is some mean-spirited, uninformed drivel that sometimes is taken personally by the intended targets.
Martelli acknowledged on Saturday that the Hawks have paid too much attention to the criticism this season.
I asked Martelli if his players were refreshed from a six-day layoff, allowing them to get away from the daily grind. But the coach said the daily grind never goes away, speaking specifically about criticism faced by him and his players on the Internet.
“The grind is still there,” he said. “The grind, and I mean this respectfully, has to do with (the media) and the social media world they live in. I have two guys in there that read every word that’s written about them, about us, about me, and it wears on them.”
As tough as it is, the coach told his players to ignore the criticism and focus on each other. That can be easier said than done.
“I finally told them, ‘This can only be here,’” he said. “And why not try to be different? Why not try to be positive? Why not try to think like, ‘You know what, today I’m going to have my game.’ That’s been the grind. It’s not time to do a season retrospect. We have a lot to accomplish with this group. But when you go back and do the retrospect, it’s all this.”
It is not a fan’s job to be positive. Fans have the right to cheer and boo. It’s not my job to be positive. My job is to report.
But if I’m going to criticize, my name will be at the top of what I write. I am accountable for what I write. Why should a fan, writing on a message board or anywhere else, be any different?
“They’ve had to deal with a lot away from the court and they haven’t dealt with it on the positive,” Martelli continued. “It’s like they’re always trying to, ‘Well, excuse us.’ There’s never a day off for these guys. I wish they’d choose not to be involved in that but they do because they’re kids.”
After Saturday’s win, Hawks guard Carl “Tay” Jones admitted that the fans’ reaction can be frustrating.
“When you ain’t winning, the fans aren’t there on your side,” he said. “It’s just us. Everybody in this locker room and the coaches, we just have to come together as a team and face the next task.”
The criticism hasn’t been limited to the St. Joe’s board. Every coach in the city has been fired many times over by their teams’ fans in the last few seasons. Worse, Villanova coach Jay Wright was accused – anonymously – of an extramarital affair. Imagine how Wright’s three children must have felt.
Criticism? Yeah, it comes with the territory of living.
But, believe me, it’s hard to ignore things said about you that just aren’t true – especially when you can’t face your accuser.
So, go ahead, fire the coach, bury the player, call out the opposing fans.
Just put your name on it.