LAKE FOREST – I am amazed this is my 45th season covering the National Football League and the Chicago Bears. I have been incredibly fortunate to get to do this for a living.
For all its risks and some flaws, I truly believe football is the greatest game there is. And say what you want about the NFL’s powers that be, what is the most popular and most watched TV product in the world?
It isn’t perfect, however, and there is one element of the dark side that I’ve never gotten used to.
I get that part of the price that comes with the adulation, riches and privilege of being a professional athlete or coach is everyone that watches you work is entitled to an opinion, and every player or coach will eventually be fired.
In my career, I’ve been fired once over the years. Justified or not, it hurt like hell.
What must make it doubly painful for coaches and players is when things go wrong – before that final dagger comes – they are forced to listen to crowds of fans and media wishing it upon them.
It happens every year. What must that feel like to them, and why do we have to be so cruel?
I had a chance the other day to ask Bears quarterback coach, John DeFilippo, exactly that, and his candor was something you all might want to think about.
“I’ve been around this profession a long time,” DeFilippo said. “My father is in this profession.
“I’ve seen my father sued by the state. I’ve seen my father at Vanderbilt, our (whole) staff almost get fired. We got to Kentucky, the whole basketball scandal; we thought we were getting fired.
“It’s just a world I’ve grown up in. It’s pretty well documented the times I’ve been let go.
“I think you, over time with maturity, I think you block out the noise because it’s yourself, and you’re doing everything you can to control what you can control.”
That was the professional Flip, as he’s called by most around him: strong voiced and appearing iron willed, just honest.
But then he got emotional.
“The people you worry about are actually the people that are outside in the noise: my wife and my daughter. Those are the people you worry about,” DeFilippo said. “My friends, my mom and dad, they read those things because they have time to and they love me. So those are the people you worry about.
“To say that you don’t think about it would be a lie, because you do have family and friends, and I consider a lot of people I work with lifelong friends.
“Sorry to go off on this, but this one hits home a little bit. I’m giving you the real deal here, so to say that you don’t think about it or feel it, it’s a lie because you do. It’s more so for other people than yourself.”
Did he ever experience the effects of it himself as a kid growing up with his dad in the business?
“I did,” DeFilippo said. “You get it in little league baseball. You get it in high school some, for sure.
“You get it, you know, people say things that they don’t understand… just because they say something they don’t understand it has an effect on your family as well.”
At no point was DeFilippo complaining, he just refreshingly gave me some honest answers.
No one is trying to be the morality police here. It is your right as a fan and my job as media to fairly evaluate the performances of coaches and players, and to say so when change is needed.
But in this new era of media, particularly of the social variety, so much of that evaluation has become personal, dark, ugly and so unnecessary.
It hurts me more and more each day I have to hear it.
If you have a heart at all imagine how it feels to the people it’s aimed at.