“You’re going down!”
Has there ever been a phrase better suited to making the speaker sound like a complete fool? If it is, in fact, within the speaker’s power to make sure the other guy does go down, then the phrase is hardly necessary. And if not, then uttering those words just sets the speaker up for failure.
So I suppose it’s not surprising that this was the parting shot in a war of words between the Golf Channel’s Jim Gray and 2010 Ryder Cup Captain Corey Pavin. Gray is, after all, ever finding ways to be a fool.
Over the past few months, I’ve commented on some other shabby behavior from reporters and their networks; not coincidentally, Gray was involved in one of those incidents as well. He acted as the initial ”interviewer” on LeBron James’ free agency decision special, hand-picked by King James himself to be the first representative of the press to speak about The Decision.
Only James’ team of advisors knows for sure why Gray was selected. Perhaps James had an existing and amicable relationship with Gray. Perhaps Gray was patently willing to play the puppet, content to merely lob softball questions that allowed James to dictate the nature of the event. Or maybe it was Gray’s list of past “exclusive” interviews with other NBA stars like Dennis Rodman, Michael Jordan, bad boy Ron Artest, and even Kobe Bryant.
In fact, Gray’s affinity for Bryant was well-documented, though heavily-criticized. James might have assumed that the reporter’s love was not just of one superstar but rather of NBA royalty in general. James must have liked the way Gray was willing to cast aside his journalistic objectivity in favor of publicly supporting Bryant. Why merely report the news when you can, even in an oblique way, be the news?
That has always been Gray’s problem. He has never seemed content to just be an announcer or sports reporter. Controversy has dogged him at every stage of his career as he wandered here and there chasing after the big scoop.
Many of you might recall an interview with Pete Rose in which Gray was little more than a cudgel, beating on and berating Rose after the Hit King was named to baseball’s All-Century team. Speaking with Rose at the 2000 All-Star Game, Gray all but demanded that Rose use the forum to publicly apologize to baseball fans for betting on the sport. In doing so, he turned a moment of celebration into an awkward and painful on-air moment.
Afterwards, Gray was unapologetic about his tactics and stood by his efforts to call out Charlie Hustle. Though Rose ultimately did admit to gambling on baseball, the revelation did little to vindicate Gray’s actions. There is, as they say, a time and place for everything, and Gray was wrong on both counts. He forgot about his responsibility in his quest to break a monster story.
The larger scope of what MLB was there for didn’t matter to him. He sought acclaim, thinly disguising his own egotistical designs behind the old “inquiring minds want to know.” It was therefore a satisfying moment to see him robbed of a post-game interview with the Yankee’s Chad Curtis, who declined to talk to Gray after winning the game with a walk-off homer. At least the reporter’s treatment of Rose was recognized for what it was by the players.
Gray’s thirst for televised glory has led to other embarrassing moments as well. During the 2006-2007 NBA season, which happened to be the last season Gray covered for ESPN, he quoted Philadelphia’s Allen Iverson, claiming that the guard hoped to be traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Ah, the importance of corroboration. Failure to confirm his sources led a red-faced Gray to admit that he had not actually spoken to The Answer at all. He was faked out by someone else on the phone.
Of course, anyone who works in the public eye is bound to have some difficult moments. Still, I can’t help but notice that Gray is often in the middle of unpleasant situations and the target of widespread criticism. Which brings us back to the present, and the current face-off that he is having with golfer Corey Pavin.[pullquote]Gray supposedly called Pavin a liar as many as ten times during the conversation, and departed with his three infamous words: You’re going down.[/pullquote]
Gray claimed that when asked whether or not he would select Tiger Woods as a Captain’s Pick for the Ryder Cup Team, Pavin replied:
“Of course I’m going to pick him. He’s the best player in the world.”
The U.S. Ryder Cup Team is composed of the top eight U.S. born golfers in the PGA rankings, plus an additional four at large selections. In all probability, Pavin did give Gray this statement, or something like it. It is only logical that he, as team captain, would want the guy who has dominated the sport for more than a decade. Even if that guy is in a rather sizable slump at the moment.
But Pavin subsequently backpedaled, saying that Gray “misinterpreted” his remarks. When asked to clarify the incident at a PGA press conference, this is how the exchange went:
I wonder if you can set us straight on the whole Tiger Woods thing. He said yesterday he would accept a pick. You were quoted on by the GOLF CHANNEL as saying he’ll be on the team. There was a Tweet this morning that said you were misquoted. Probably more than me are confused. Could you run us through what’s right and what’s not?
Pavin: Let’s straighten this out right now. I had a conversation with Jim Gray yesterday just outside the locker room near where we registered and he asked me a few questions and his interpretation of what I said is incorrect.
There’s nobody that’s promised any picks right now. It would be disrespectful to everybody that’s trying to make the team. I’ve got quite a few people I’m looking at. I would not disrespect any of the players that are potential players on the team, and obviously there was a misinterpretation of what I said, and that is an incorrect quote.
And then, naturally, the situation went from contentious to absurd. As the press emptied out of the room, Gray and Pavin had a confrontation that quickly escalated into shouts. Gray allegedly gestured at Pavin’s wife, which prompted an angry reaction. Gray supposedly called Pavin a liar as many as ten times during the conversation, and departed with his three infamous words: You’re going down.
Gray has since denied the threat.
As I see it, there are several possibilities here. One is that Gray did indeed misquote or misinterpret Pavin’s comments, which makes him a rather poor reporter. Another is that the remarks were somewhat less definitive than they were made to seem, which means that Gray’s framing of the situation should be called into question. A third possibility is that Pavin is indeed lying, and rightly felt the need to cover himself after saying something he regretted.
Even if that is the case, Gray has acted with his typical lack of discretion. Yet again the controversy swirls with him at the center, and like the boy who cried wolf, the public no longer finds him to be believable. Gray’s lack of credibility is a punchline. Online polls across multiple sports sites indicate that fans buy Pavin’s story over Gray’s by a margin of 30% or more.
For the record, I should admit that I’m much more inclined to believe Pavin. But let’s assume for a moment that Gray is telling the truth and Pavin is trying to extricate himself from a difficult situation. Even making that assumption, Gray’s actions are still ridiculous. Anyone who has ever written commentary knows that to report absolutes is to set oneself up for trouble. Had Gray couched his words more carefully, this might not have escalated into a he said-he said. And to follow up the release of such information by getting in an athlete’s face is juvenile at best.
Forget the sideline reporting. I think it’s time for Jim Gray to just be sidelined.