Anonymous, mean-spirited quotes and player polls in NFL need to stop

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

Confidential player surveys and anonymous front-office evaluations are good for cheap, easy Internet traffic. Few of us can resist scanning the results, even if it's akin to some pathetic grade-school slam book or anonymous Internet bullying.

As such, it's become a staple of modern "journalism" and this week, like most, it left another group of scorned players and coaches trying to brush off critics they can't confront.

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Pro Football Weekly allowed an unnamed "rival GM" to continue his recurring battle of insults with a named Detroit Lion, center Dominic Raiola. Meanwhile, The Sporting News publicized the latest anonymous player poll, which promptly bashed the New York Jets' Rex Ryan as the league's "most overrated coach."

On Wednesday, Raiola and Ryan were confronted with the results. The men who aren't man enough to put their names to the attacks – and the media that provided them the forum – weren't.

Unnamed sources should be used for conveying sensitive information. Sometimes an identity needs to be protected for a truth to come out. To offer anonymity for pointless, mean-spirited NFL rip jobs is ridiculous. This isn't Woodward and Bernstein stuff.

Polls that offer confidentiality can yield interesting and insightful information that readers won't get any other way. If asked to choose the best quarterback or coach, a voter could choose someone outside their organization with no fear of hurt feelings.

Nothing is gleaned from "most overrated" or just about any other negative question. It's just a chance for the voters to unload and the rest of us to laugh. As for allowing a hidden GM to have a one-way punk session on a helpless player, well, that is just a sad grasp for relevancy.

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Raiola fought back aggressively Wednesday in what is now his second round of insults with Pro Football Weekly and some nameless general manager. Last month the unnamed GM blasted the Lions executives, coaches and players. Raiola defended his teammates and bosses at the time calling it "a coward statement" because no one attached their name to it.

Undeterred, the GM responded to the response via PFW on Sunday. He decided to double down on Raiola.

"I saw Dominic Raiola called me out, asking who the aimless, anonymous GM is who criticized the great Lions," PFW quoted the aimless, anonymous GM. "Who is this person? It's the guy who rejects you every time he watches your tape and thinks you are a complete fraud. It's the guy who didn't think you could play when you came out of college and still doesn't think you can play now.

"If he spent as much time working the other muscles in his body as he does his jaw, he might have had the chance to be an average backup," the GM continued. "You can put that in print."

You can put that in print! Ah, what a tough guy, a line right out of a movie or something. There's a clique of seventh-grade girls somewhere who are so impressed.

Raiola, clearly upset and wearing a T-shirt that read "God forgives, Detroit doesn't", called the GM and PFW "gutless." [PFW has since taken down the GM's quote.]

"If you're his family, how do you even call this guy a man of your house?" Raiola asked reporters.

The answer: There's no way he'd admit to his kids he acted so cravenly.

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Meanwhile, Ryan went with a comedic defense mechanism to laugh off being called the league's "most overrated coach," finishing ahead of the New England Patriots' Bill Belichick 35 to 16 in a poll of 103 players.

''Hey, I finally beat Belichick," Ryan said Wednesday. "I got him. I knew it would take time, but I finally got him.''

Later, though, he sort of sighed at the podium and declared, albeit with his trademark grin, "I mean golly, like it hadn't been a tough enough year."

That was probably a more accurate reaction.

Look, the NFL is a tough league, a cutthroat business and everyone involved is well compensated, so some of this comes with the territory. Fans, media, everyone has an opinion. That much is understood. It's always been that way.

This is different, though. No one wants to be called names, let alone have to answer questions about being called names by someone who is nameless. And while there is no statistical proof that this kind of "media content" is on the rise, it sure feels that way. Just two weeks ago, a Sports Illustrated survey revealed that Ryan's starting quarterback (Mark Sanchez) and backup (Tim Tebow) were the two most "overrated" players in the league.

Maybe that explains the Jets 3-5 record then. Or maybe their struggles have something to do with Darrelle Revis getting injured.

Can the NFL grow up? We know some in the media appear incapable of acting in a decent, accountable manner if there is money to be made. When it comes to the players though, one of the admirable parts of the league is the camaraderie. Football is hard. It's violent. It's fleeting.

Players and coaches go to battle and then after they mostly shake hands. They don't have to get along, of course. No one is demanding that they all love each other. If you want to snipe at one other, have at it.

Just try to keep it reasonable and stand up when you're speaking out. Secretly belittling a peer is just pathetic.

Raiola is in his 12th season as an undersized center out of Nebraska. You'll never find a quote from him claiming he is some legendary star. He's well aware that he's a working man's player, doing the best he can, grateful for the opportunity to play in the NFL.

Besides, if he apparently isn't any good yet has made millions living his dream, shouldn't the GM be celebrating his resilience?

Ryan, of course, all but asks for the bull's-eye. Part of that is his personality. Part of it is a calculated move to shield criticism from his players. It doesn't mean he deserves this. And isn't overrated better than irrelevant? Isn't that more a product of coaching in New York and being successful? Were the respondents even read a definition of overrated before answering, so there was consistency to the process, like an actual scientific poll would require?

Ryan wasn't backing down Wednesday, still talking about the Jets making the playoffs, even with a losing record and a tough game in Seattle on Sunday.

"Look, my confidence will never waver, ever," Ryan said. "To do great things, extraordinary things, you're always going to have skeptics. There's no doubt about that. You always have them, and I understand that comes with the territory. But I understand this: I don't buy into it."

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So while Raiola fumed, Ryan tried to spin it back around. He may be overrated, but when it comes to free agency, most of those guys will gladly shut up and come running to play for the Jets.

"Poll the same players about who they want to play for," Ryan said. "I'll probably end up where I always am, right at the top with [Pittsburgh coach Mike] Tomlin. [It's] either me or Mike Tomlin, one or two, of [who] the guys want to play for. I don't think that will change. "As long as they want to come here and play and I'm overrated, that's fine."

It was a far more mature response than the players or the publication deserved.

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