January 28, 2022

As a former sports columnist who never played sports at a professional level, I heard it all the time.

“Who are you” fans would ask, “to criticize anyone? You never played the game.”

It wasn’t just fans. A few athletes even said that to me from time to time.

The irony lost in those moments was people who had never been sports columnists were telling me I was lousy at being a sports columnist. But I digress, and besides, everyone had a right to tell me I was a bum or that they didn’t like my columns.

I just never bought into the idea that you had to have played a sport to be able to criticize someone who does. After all, I’ve never been a chef, but I can tell the difference between a good juicy steak and one that tastes like the bottom of a sweaty tennis shoe.

That “you-never-played-the-game” take was always among the laziest and lamest forms of criticism. And while all sports journalists get their fair share of that knock, there’s little doubt that female sports journalists get it way worse than men.

That brings me to what happened in the past couple of days involving one of ESPN’s top NFL analysts.

ESPN’s Mina Kimes is one of the sharpest personalities on the air. She’s smart, funny and charismatic. And really good on TV. Part of her job is to offer up strong opinions, which she does with confidence and knowledge. You don’t have to agree with her, but she certainly has the right to offer those opinions — which, I might add, are generally based on facts and reporting.

But a former NFL quarterback pulled that tired and unfair “you never played the game” card on Kimes after she criticized the play of 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the playoffs.

Kimes said on the air, “Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t the reason they’re winning. … They’re winning with him, but not because of him. … He posted the second-lowest QBR in 15 years (in a victory against Green Bay last weekend). … Since joining the Niners, he has two touchdowns and five interceptions in the postseason. These are not advanced statistics. The dude is just simply not helping them win.”

Again, you might disagree with Kimes, but she brought facts to her case.

But Jeff Garcia — a former NFL quarterback for six teams, including the 49ers, from 1999 to 2009 — ripped into Kimes because she never played the game.

In an Instagram post, Garcia wrote, “Who the hell is Mina Kimes and when is the last time she threw a touchdown pass in a game? Never! Ever! has she taken a snap or can truly understand the ability, the mindset, the physical and mental toughness, that it takes to play the QB position or any position in the NFL.”

Garcia wasn’t done. He added, “The fact that there are people out there given a platform to talk about something that they have never done is hilarious and that’s how you have to look at her, she’s a joke! So let’s just laugh at her and support Jimmy, root on our Niners to go out and beat the living (expletive) out of one more team. That’s what it takes. She will never know that feeling. Can I get an amen? Peace.”

Uh, you will not get an amen here.

This is an awful take that athletes and fans often go to. When you can’t really argue with the message, you go after the person saying it.

But here’s the point that Garcia and others miss. When sportswriters and broadcasters are talking about an athlete, they aren’t comparing those athletes to themselves — but to other athletes. Kimes isn’t saying she is better than Garoppolo. And she never said it was easy. She’s saying Garoppolo hasn’t played well, and she’s basing that on how other quarterbacks have played.

And you don’t have to have played the game to see if someone is playing poorly.

As I said, I was never a chef, but if you overcook the Brussels sprouts, I’m going to send them back. Or as someone posted on Twitter, “You don’t need to be a pilot to know plane crashes are bad.”

By Garcia’s standard, no one can criticize the president except former presidents, only plumbers can judge other plumbers and, unless you’ve built your own car, you have no right to complain about gas mileage.

Garcia, like anyone, has a right to express his opinion. But he should know that he came off looking like a clown, and a little misogynistic, too. After all, he called out Kimes but didn’t call out a bunch of guys who are essentially saying the same thing about Garoppolo.

As expected, Kimes took it in stride, sarcastically saying, “Apparently I was the only person last week to point out Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t play well.”

And it was good to see Kimes’ colleagues sticking up for her.

ESPN senior writer Kevin Van Valkenburg tweeted, “A huge reason why Mina makes so many sad, insecure dudes so mad is she actually puts in a lot of work in order to be so good on TV (and every medium) and that hustle is scary for bros who just want to fart out opinions like: ‘back in my day, we knew a winner when we saw one.’”

ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky tweeted, “I’ve known & worked with @minakimes for years. I’ve shared thousands of texts about football with her. Hundreds & hundreds of in person conversation about football & about QBs—she’s never once implied ‘it was easy’ or pretended to know how hard it is to do. She’s PHENOMENAL.”

Former NFL receiver Torrey Smith tweeted, “I see a lot of corny and insecure men are highly upset by what Mina Kimes said. You guys hate the messenger and not the message. I’ve seen plenty of folks say similar things and folks didn’t say a damn thing. Hell, I’ve said similar things myself. It’s not a wild take.”

You know who else didn’t play in the NFL? Garoppolo’s coach, Kyle Shanahan. Is he allowed to criticize his quarterback? According to Garcia’s standards, that would be no.

This is just to point out that Garcia’s comments are not new, but they are completely out of line. Unfortunately, he won’t be the last one to say something so wrong.

Favorite tweet of the week

My favorite tweet of the week actually comes out of one of the more depressing developments this month.

The 10-person school board in McMinn County, Tennessee, recently voted unanimously to ban “Maus,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust. The board said they are removing the book from the eighth-grade curriculum because of profanity and descriptions of nudity.

According to the minutes from the meeting, board member Mike Cochran said, “We don’t need this stuff to teach kids history. We can teach them history and we can teach them graphic history. We can tell them exactly what happened, but we don’t need all the nakedness and all the other stuff.”

The book was written by Art Spiegelman, who uses mice (Jewish people) and cats (Nazis) to tell the story of his parents’ experience in the Holocaust. Spiegelman told CNBC, “I’m kind of baffled by this. It’s leaving me with my jaw open, like, ‘What?’”

Spiegelman first published the book in 1986. It was awarded a special citation by the Pulitzer Prize Board in 1992.

The Washington Post’s Philip Bump wrote, “It is intensely weird in a deeply American way to take an award-winning book about the mass murder of millions of people, presented as a deeply personal, allegorical story about a family, and fret over eight bad words and a naked mouse. To figure that by covering up the endings ‘itch’ and ‘amn’ you were protecting the innocence of students very familiar with those words’ proper use. It’s the equivalent of handing out umbrellas to people floating in the ocean.”

So back to my favorite tweet of the week. Twitter star and former basketball player Rex Chapman nailed it with this tweet:

“Which groups of people who banned books ended up being the ‘good guys’ in history?”

Least favorite tweets

“Jeopardy!” fans in the western part of the United States were riled up Wednesday night when word got out that Amy Schneider’s 40-game winning streak on the iconic game show came to an end on the program that aired Wednesday.

For example, The Washington Post official Twitter account tweeted a story about Schneider’s loss and it included, “Amy Schneider’s history-making ‘Jeopardy!’ streak ends at 40 games and nearly $1.4 million in earnings.”

The tweet went out at 7:43 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday. But, in other time zones, it was still early enough that the show had not aired yet. In fact, in many places on the East Coast, the show airs at 7:30 p.m., so it was only half over. And let’s not forget those who DVR the show.

The Post sent out a push alert, too, and that really didn’t go over well with many.

Nieman Lab’s Laura Hazard Owen detailed some of the angry responses.

The Post wasn’t the only one. The New York Times tweeted out that Schneider had lost at 7:36 p.m.

On one hand, are news outlets supposed to sit on this news until “Jeopardy!” airs out west as late as 10:30 p.m. Eastern time? And by that time, wouldn’t millions of people have already watched the show and started tweeting about it?

Then again, not waiting until at least 8 p.m. Eastern time wouldn’t have been too much to ask, especially because this wasn’t critical breaking news that people had to know. (Then again that’s, perhaps, my Eastern time bias in asking news outlets to wait until the show is over in the eastern half of the country.)

Yeah, it stinks that news outlets might have spoiled the results for viewers, but it’s hard to criticize them for getting out the information, especially because the show had already aired in some parts of the country.

Speaking of Schneider …

Schneider’s impressive streak of 40 games was the second-longest in “Jeopardy!” regular-season history.

Schneider posted a rather lengthy Twitter thread about her experiences on Wednesday night, and then followed up with more Twitter reactions on Thursday.

In Thursday’s newsletter, I linked to an excellent profile of Schneider by The New York Times’ Shane O’Neill: “‘Jeopardy!’ Hasn’t Had a Player Like Amy Schneider.”

Also, check out:

A new title

CNN’s Nima Elbagir. (Courtesy: CNN)

CNN made a notable announcement on Thursday: Nima Elbagir has been named chief international investigative correspondent. She is the first person at CNN to have that title.

Elbagir has done important work covering human rights abuses in places such as Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Libya, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Yemen. The Sudanese-born Elbagir worked in various capacities on television in the U.K. before joining CNN in 2011.

In another CNN announcement, Will Ripley has been promoted to senior international correspondent.

Award winner

The Atlantic has named Nadja Drost as the winner of the 18th annual Michael Kelly Award for her California Sunday Magazine cover story “When Can We Really Rest?” The story is about the dangerous journey for migrants crossing the Darién Gap at the Colombia-Panama border on their way to the United States.

The award is named for the late Atlantic editor and honors “journalists whose work exemplifies the fearless pursuit and expression of truth, qualities that defined Michael Kelly’s own life and career.” Kelly was the first journalist killed while covering the war in Iraq in 2003.

Here’s The Atlantic’s announcement, which includes the other finalists.

Remembering the beginning

Jad Abumrad announced this week that he is leaving WNYC Studio’s “Radiolab,” the podcast he founded nearly 20 years ago. The show will continue.

But to celebrate Abumrad, the show is releasing the very first episode that has only been broadcast once — way back in 2002 on WNYC’s AM station. The show should go up this morning sometime around 10 a.m. Go to the Radiolab site or try this link, but only later in the morning.

Media tidbits

Hot type

Dr. Anthony Fauci (with Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the background) speaking on Capitol Hill on Jan. 11. (Shawn Thew/Pool via AP)

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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