Jason Taylor nailed it again Monday night on "Dancing With The Stars," impressing the judges with his passable rendition of The Jive, a swing dance originated among African-Americans in the 1940s. He and partner Edyta Sliwinska received a score of 23 from the three judges, one of whom expressed amazement that someone as tall as the 6-foot-6 Taylor can move the way he does.
And, once again, Taylor's other would-be partner – the NFL's massive public relations and marketing machine – tripped over its two left feet.
Taylor, the Miami Dolphins' star defensive end, is giving the league the positive exposure most multibillion dollar conglomerates crave. In the wake of a miserable 2007 offseason dominated by the two-pronged PR nightmare of Michael Vick's dogfighting conviction and Pacman Jones' various legal entanglements, the NFL's reigning Man of the Year is ingratiating himself to more than 20 million viewers on a twice-weekly basis.
Given that many of those viewers are women and children who don't typically keep tabs on standout players for 1-15 football teams, this is the kind of crossover appeal that should have NFL executives doing jigs in the hallways of 280 Park Avenue in New York City.
Yet when I went to the league's website Monday, I couldn't find any sort of promotional support for Taylor on a night in which the viewers of America's second-most-watched television show would determine whether he (and the built-in positive publicity he generates) would stick around for another week. On the front of nfl.com were photos of Eli Manning, Cedric Benson, and Ohio State linebacker Vernon Gholston – even a small one of Pacman – but there was no mention of Taylor, let alone a "Vote for JT" reminder with the accompanying 800 number.
When I expressed my opinion that Taylor was being under-promoted to Greg Aiello, the league's savvy senior vice president of public relations, he disagreed, saying that Taylor's appearances had received coverage from the NFL Network, nfl.com and NFL Report newsletter. Aiello and another league official directed me to a 2½-week old video clip from the NFL Network (and available on the website) featuring a reasonably comprehensive interview with Taylor on his "Dancing" venture, complete with footage of him and Sliwinska rehearsing – and of Taylor and reporter Michelle Beisner doing a few steps.
On the Dolphins' website, there's a story about Taylor's standout effort on "Dancing" the previous week, when he was dubbed "The Mambo King" by judge Bruno Tonioli. But there's nothing encouraging Dolphins fans to vote for Taylor; no blog about his upcoming performance; no insider's glimpse into his experience.
Why isn't Taylor getting that kind of promotional love from his employer or the league as a whole? I have my theories:
• Football doesn't hype its stars: Unlike, say, the NBA, the NFL is all about furthering the league's brand without going out of its way to draw attention to the successful players. It takes a transcendent performer like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning to emerge from underneath the helmet and become a recognizable face, and Taylor is in the process of becoming the rare non-quarterback to accomplish that feat.
• The Tuna Factor: Bill Parcells, the Dolphins' recently hired executive vice president of football operations, isn't happy that the team's premier player has chosen dancing shoes over football cleats. Parcells would strongly prefer that the Mambo King morph into the Weight Room King and participate in the team's voluntary offseason workout program, and it chafes him that Taylor is blowing off the new sheriff. If Parcells had his way, Taylor would be voted off the show yesterday.
• The NFL isn't in touch with its feminine side: Most football people believe a locker-room leader like Taylor should have been sweating it out with his teammates in March, and the sight of him wearing a pink tutu (in the season premiere) was too much for them to process. It isn't like Taylor's appearing on "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy," but to many NFL types, it's the same thing.
• Network politics: "Dancing With The Stars" airs on ABC, which is owned by Disney, which owns ESPN, which pays a ton of money to televise NFL games. But NBC, FOX and CBS also pay copious amounts of cash for the same privilege, and the overt plugging of an ABC show might offend the people who run those networks. Yes, it's a silly way to think, but when you're talking about network deals that exceed $1 billion, paranoia tends to come with the package.
I'm not mad that the NFL isn't getting behind Taylor's quest to increase his profile; I'm just somewhat amazed. In this case, what's good for him should be good for the league. When Taylor, on the strength of his charitable endeavors, won the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award earlier this year, commissioner Roger Goodell wisely chose to have it announced on live television just before the start of Super Bowl XLII, with the whole world watching.
Now, in a development that should warm Goodell's heart, the good people of "Dancing With The Stars" keep reminding us of that distinction. It's one of the reasons Taylor is enjoying rampant popularity in circles where he was virtually anonymous a few weeks ago.
Everywhere I go, from the elementary school blacktop to the youth soccer fields (yes, I live an exciting offseason), I get asked by women and children, "Do you know Jason Taylor? What's he really like?"
"He's not shy," I tell them.
But for some strange reason, the NFL is.
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"Mike, tough luck on the Cal women's loss to my Colonials in the second round. It was one hell of a game. Guess it's just karmic revenge for Yahoo! Sports' laughable lack of coverage for NCAA women's hoops, though. Keep up the great football articles. I need my fix before the draft, and I don't think I've ever seen such a fitting analogy as the one you described about (Carson) Palmer and his dogs."
It was indeed a hell of a game, contested by a pair of passionate, well-coached teams. Yet, pathetically, the person who most influenced the outcome was an official, Amy Bonner, whose phantom traveling call on Cal's Natasha Vital set up GW's buzzer-beater. … I don't want to take anything away from George Washington's effort, or from the sport of women's basketball, but the NCAA should be embarrassed by what took place at Stanford's Maples Pavilion last week. Had it occurred during a men's tourney game, a national uproar would have ensued. Instead, 10 Cal players sobbed uncontrollably in the locker room before heading home, while Bonner continued on to Spokane, Wash., to officiate Stanford's third-round victory over Pitt. I know I'm biased, but this was the greatest sporting injustice I've ever seen in person.
" 'Ocho Oh No' is Chad (Johnson's) new moniker if he comes to Dallas. I hope we can't afford him. Please God (or in this case, Mr. Silver) don't let this happen."
Far be it from me to say 'oh no' to a media circus.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you. I think I already sent you a note about Chad Johnson's antics, but thanks again. I can't wait for the Bungholes to play the Browns and ol' Chad, aka. Ocho Stinko, gets his gold teef knocked out. Yep, that was ebonics all right and not a misspelling. I think that would make my week or month seeing that happen; him lying there on the field helmet knocked off, little birds tweeting around his head, and his teef on the turf! That would be like getting a nice steak dinner for free."
James Humphrey Jr.
Could you be any less racially enlightened? If you were my pastor … well, you know where this is going.
"Where did you disappear to? I'm waiting for your column. You need to get back to work. Quit taking so much time off."
True, my decision to take a short break in late March was a rather radical one, but I assumed that the approval of my bosses made it somewhat justifiable. How silly of me. Thanks for setting me straight.
"I know, I know, you hear this all the time, but seriously: Yahoo! Sports writing has not been the same since you joined the team. Who can I contact to make sure Yahoo! keeps paying you enough (and maybe up your expense account?) to keep you?"
Eau Claire, Wis.
I do hear that all that time. But I never, ever get tired of it. You can start by contacting Sonu and begging him for a few extra days off.
I don't drink a whole lot of Don Julio tequila, but reading some of these emails makes me reach for the bottle.
"Was (James) Harrison charged with domestic violence or simple assault and criminal mischief? Wow! Imagine how hard it would be to do your job if you had to use facts."
Here's the news story detailing the charges against Harrison, who, according to The Associated Press, was "arrested after hitting 29-year-old Beth Tibbott at her home in Ohio Township, according to a police affidavit." Is that factual enough for you?
"Your story about (Jon) Kitna and his supposed 'bold' statement that it will be a disappointment if the Lions do not win 10 games, is quite lame. As Kitna stated before, its not a prediction, it is a clear statement of fact. They will not be happy with anything less than a 10-win season, which would more than likely send them to the playoffs. Maybe if he just said that he wouldn't be happy unless they made the playoffs, it would sink into your baby brain. I understand your a little slow and I like Yahoo! Sports pages, but when I see your picture next to the column I expect dumb. Thanks for coming through again."
Two things my baby brain managed to pick up from your email: Like many fans of my columns, you struggle with the proper use of you're vs. your, and you also have an issue with it's vs. its . So thanks, because when a reader calls me "dumb," I will not be happy with anything less than a two-error email.
"Hey, I love your columns every week. Kitna doesn't deserve that much love, but it's nice to see someone actually standing up for his lackluster team. And c'mon! You can't rag on 'Forrest (Gump)' … (Robert) Zemeckis and (Tom) Hanks are two of the most talented, and respected people in American film-making, there is no doubt that Gump is their best collaboration. Maybe that over-exaggerated, steaming pile of extreme contrasts thrown into a film that was 'Crash,' would warrant it."
Lake Oswego, Ore.
As much as we disagree on "Forrest Gump," I am with you on "Crash."
"Altering lyrics to 'Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)'? Kind of sacrilege, but I'll give you a pass on account of it being a shout out to The Boss. (Bruce) Springsteen FTW."
Thanks for the pass, and remember – in this space, I am The Boss.
"Excellent work on the Boss. He and I both thank you for leaving in the shout out to Jersey – the song, otherwise, would not remain the same …"
Because of you and Bruce, I'm in a garden state of mind.
"Do you think it is a little unfair to describe Ronnie Brown as 'weak knees'? When he got hurt, he was leading the league in yards from scrimmage on one of the weakest teams in recent memory! I'd like to see you trot out onto the field for 158 touches in 6½ games and not get injured. I know it is easy to talk smack from your computer screen, but give the guy a break."
Bruce, Mike Zvalaren and the rest of the New Jersey's fine citizens (and I) kindly suggest that you lighten up.
"Once again Michael Silver, you did it. You probably rank as the best sports writer of this decade, because no one makes comments and jokes like you. Your Eminem connection to the Detroit Lions season is pure genius. I also agree with you that Jon Kitna has the ugliest haircut in the NFL. But before smashing Kitna, (even though I can care less) look in the mirror and try to see how your hair looks. Seriously California boy, this isn't the wild wild west show. So, get yourself a decent haircut before I throw up. Peace!"
Don't come to Oaktown, son, or Jennifer, my fabulous hairdresser, may accidentally slice off your ear.
"I don't like you. I apologize. You're stupid. Please forgive me."
On a positive note, my head is now spinning so rapidly, I no longer require a haircut.
"Again, no love for Stanford. You did mention them 'GASP,' a week or so ago, but nothing sports related. You told someone a few months ago that he didn't have to read your (biased) and political-laced columns, and I will follow your advice. Being born and 'reared' in S.F., I came to despise everything L.A., their snobbishness, arrogance and deluded superiority complex. However, when push comes to shove, I will root for a Pac-10 team, or a MLB N.L. team, or a NFL West team. You, on the other hand, appear to be unable to get over the fact that you couldn't attend Stanford (for whatever reasons), hence you feel the need to disrespect (it) by ignoring (it). Look at all of the sports these two schools have in common (I haven't compared all of them myself, but I know Cal does not have a fencing team for instance, and yes, Cal has a superior rugby team), but in your heart of hearts, you know that Stanford is by far the superior school, scholastically, athletically, any which way that you want to compare them. So why don't you get off of your high horse occasionally and give Stanford its just dues? You're a big boy now, can't you grow up just a bit, since you are writing to a national audience?"
My, my … and to think there's a stereotype about Stanford people being snooty, condescending and aloof. Did you not get admitted to Cal? The insecurity is unbecoming. Look, here's the deal: I attended the greatest academic institution on earth, one which, in my heart of hearts, I know is inferior to no university scholastically (or any which way I want to compare them). Athletically, Cal has one of the most comprehensively successful programs in the country, and things are getting even better, and I will proudly celebrate those achievements. Stanford is Cal's rival, and rival-tweaking is another sport in which the Golden Bears excel. I will continue to ignore or draw attention to the Bay Area's second-most challenging university as the situation warrants, given that it is my column, and the fact that I could attend Cal made all of this possible. With all of that said, congratulations to Tara VanDerveer and the Cardinal on their first Final Four appearance since 1997, and watch out – Joanne Boyle and her scorned Bears are coming after you next season.