Why is it hard to believe reporters don't root?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In conversations with many of you, I’m often asked how I can “not like” the Titans and still cover them.

The question drives me crazy, but it’s asked often enough that I felt like I should expound on the answer in this space. Now I will have something to point people to every time I am asked.FullSizeRender 19

I did a similar thing at ESPN.com in 2011, with a piece on how people accusing me of being biased every time I expressed an opinion were not really getting what it was I was doing.

First off, the notion that I “don’t like” the Titans makes it seems like there are strictly two options: Liking them or not liking them.

It’s not that simple.

I like reporting about them. I like a lot of people with the organization, long-timers and newcomers. Right now I like their plan, direction and a good share of their personnel. But I don’t like them like most of you like them. I don’t like them where I root for them or have an emotional investment in their success or failure.

If they are good, like most of us expect them to be in 2017, that should be good for business, sure. If they are not good, it won’t change what I do.

Some of you thought, once I finished at ESPN, I would somehow reveal my fandom.

Some of you refuse to believe it, but I simply don’t have an NFL rooting interest. I really like the league. I love watching games. I root for close matchups, tension, drama. Those are the best ingredients in sports. Those are incredibly compelling to take in and then discuss.

I grew up in Central New Jersey, watching both the Giants and the Jets. I was a Giants fan, but they weren’t the biggest deal. The Yankees and the Knicks meant more to me.

By the time I covered the 1995 Oakland Raiders on my first pro beat, my NFL rooting interest had faded. Years earlier I had found what I wanted to do for a living. And the ethos of being a journalist was far more important to me than the score of the Giants' game. A lot of that was already in me from a family-instilled desire to make intelligent and reasoned arguments that was only reinforced by a freshman year class at Columbia that’s been in place forever and won’t ever disappear: Logic and Rhetoric.

I was also a big newspsper reader, and I understood how the people I read and admired, like George Vecsey, operated.

My place on the fandom spectrum is really about the emotional versus the rationale.

It’s really well-described in a book I’ve been reading: “SWITCH: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.”switch

It’s about the constant battle we face between a rider, the rational guy trying to steer, and elephant, his vehicle that’s fueled by emotion and hard to make change course.

Without any indictment of your size and weight, many of you who read me are elephants and I’m trying to be a rider. I sometimes get caught up in the emotion of things, but not so much the winning or losing kind. It’s the emotion that comes from fighting an unreasonable elephant, the one who loves Alabama and has to see Derrick Henry get all the carries for the Titans or the one who believed the Titans should have drafted a quarterback in every round of every draft until they found their guy. (The Marcus Mariota approach was way better.)

Yes, it’s good to see players, coaches and executives I know and like to do well.

That said, the fact that I like Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell or Bucs coach Dirk Koetter or Browns cornerback Jason McCourty won’t typically make me root for their teams when I turn on the TV to see them play.

I'm a soccer guy, and I love to watch EPL games. But I've found adopting a team to be hard. I tried Swansea on for size, and Everton. But neither has really stuck. Given a league where I could pick any team, I've picked none. And it has not hurt my enjoyment of it a bit. My need to root as a sports fan is covered by the New York Yankees, a team I grew up rooting for in Central New Jersey, and by the U.S. National Soccer Teams. I root too, for other things I am a huge fan of: Bruce Springsteen, Howard Stern, the author Richard Russo, big waves at Avon-by-the-Sea, N.J.

Beyond that, I really don’t feel a ton of pull. I’d like it if the Knicks did well. I got into the Predators this season though, even as I don’t technically cover them, I do feel odd about it at times since we’re still critiquing them on The Midday 180.

I have great jobs on the radio and writing here, but they are still jobs.

It’s cool that many of you would like to be in the locker room and in the press box the way I get to be. It’s cool too, in many ways, to be your proxy there.

Trust me, you don’t want me to be a fan.

You’ve got an excellent team-employed reporter covering the Titans in Jim Wyatt, a great friend of mine. There are other fan site and voices, like Jimmy Morris and his contributors at Music City Miracles.

What you need from me is a detachment, a lack of investment. If something is terrible, I can say it sucks. If something is great, it is likely to mean more when I declare it so. If a hard question has to be asked, I'm going to ask it.

It’s just a fundamental tenet of the journalism I still believe in, no matter how the business has changed and changes. If you cover the Justice Department, you don’t root for the Attorney General. If you cover the auto industry, you don’t root for Ford. If you cover Metro Nashville, you don’t root for the mayor.

If you cover a team in the NFL or any league, you don’t root for it.

Hell, I went to Columbia, which invented Columbia blue. I’m wary, in Nashville, of wearing stuff that doesn’t say Columbia on it big enough to make clear I am not wearing Titans clothes.

It’s not because I don’t like them.

It’s because my investment in them is different than yours. I’m invested in building relationships and finding stories to tell and stuff to analyze. And being detached isn’t hard. At all. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a big part of the job. And I think I’m pretty good at the job.

In my roles circa 2017, I can like, respect, observe and report on Marcus Mariota while hoping good things happen for a good guy without rooting for him. I swear it.

It’s hard for me to understand people not understanding that.

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