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Slate rips Larry Fitzgerald, Sr.

A week after national media plaudits, local sportwriter and father of the Arizona Cardinals’ all-Pro receiver gets taken down.
By David Brauer

The national media — they build you up, then tear you down.

After a week reading laudatory profiles on sites like ESPN, the Washington Post and USA Today, Slate’s Josh Levin takes several good rips at Larry Fitzgerald, Sr. — father of Arizona Cardinals all-world wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Jr., a Super Bowl MVP candidate Sunday.

Riffing off Fitzgerald, Sr.’s pronouncement that he’s “an objective journalist” who won’t be cheering in the Super Bowl pressbox, Levin hammers dad’s ethics, and those of his paper, the Minneapolis Spokesman-Recorder.

“All of these stories create an image of a sportswriter obsessed with journalistic etiquette, a reporter who pounds out scrupulously honest, evenhanded, undemonstrative copy,” Levin writes.

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However, Levin calls the Spokesman-Recorder sports section “essentially a Larry Fitzgerald Jr. tribute page — since 2003, the elder Fitzgerald has written about his son at least 23 times. … the vast majority of Fitzgerald Sr.’s articles lack any kind of disclosure, instead identifying Fitzgerald Jr. as a local boy made good.”

Levin proceeds to mock dad’s oddly third-person gushes, such as “No bird — or player for this matter — has played better in these playoffs than Fitzgerald. The remarkable 25-year-old receiver has been on fire.”

Some of this is petty. Despite the ethics of disclosure, I suspect every single reader of the Spokesman-Recorder — a Minneapolis-based paper serving the African-American community — knows the Fitzgeralds are related. They probably weren’t bothered by what averages out to four mentions a year of a local kid who became an college All-American (2003), third pick of the NFL draft (2004) and All-Pro (2005, 2007, 2008). Finally, lines like the ones above (which, I should note, have the virtue of being true) are just a clumsy but sincere attempt to stick to sportswriter-ese.

Still, I’ll admit I was uncomfortable at last week’s media gushing, too.

It’s been years since I crawled the press boxes, but Fitzgerald, Sr. was never the most-respected member of the Twin Cities sportwriting corps. During the Denny Green era, he earned much scorn —including mine — for his over-the-top defense of Vikings coach Denny Green, even as Green literally retreated to the team bunker amid off-field improprieties. (At the time, Larry Fitzgerald, Jr. was a ballboy for the Vikes, which gives you a sense of the ethics here.)

For Fitz, this was a case of reverse racism — you can read his take on Minnesota sportswriters in this 1998 group interview with City Pages’ Britt Robson.

On some level, Fitzgerald’s treatment of “close personal friends” was no different than Sid Hartman’s. Both were properly mocked, but Fitz seemed downgraded another notch as a black guy sucking up to black guys, whereas Sid sucked up to anyone with power. Fitz’s sin, I suppose, was using racial affinity instead of a more general kind.

While I regarded Fitz as a shill, I also thought what he was doing was not that remarkable, considering the plethora of white media clapping the backs of sports figures who just happened to be white.

Levin properly blames much of the current mess on horribly saccharine writers like ESPN’s Rick Reilly, but Fitz should also quit pretending he’s LaVelle Neal when he’s more like Dark Star.

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Another piece of advice: If my kid was playing in the big game, I’d be cheering in the stands, not sitting in the pressbox.