Teri Berg
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September 8 - Eagles Press Their Advantage

Get a look at this Associated Press report and tell me if you think it's a good
example of media bias against athletes.

Surfacing today are reports that Philadelphia Eagles RB Brian Westbrook and his
agent have suspended negotiations with team management because the two
sides can't agree on the numbers for the long-term extension Westbrook is
seeking. Westbrook is currently a restricted free agent on a one-year, $1.43
million deal, and fears the Eagles will slap him with a franchise tag for next year
so that he's stuck with the same deal, regardless of how he performs and how
valuable he is to the team.

I'm not a huge fan of Westbrook -- he's a decent back, more productive in Philly as a receiver than an
RB because of what TMQ/Gregg Easterbrook might call Andy Reid's pass-wacky offense. That
doesn't mean this former third-round pick (2002) out of Villanova couldn't be more productive
elsewhere -- though some might debate Westbrook's idea that he could be All-Pro if he got more
carries.

What's troubling to me about AP's report is how it tears down Westbrook while conveniently ignoring
how consistently stingy the Eagles organization is. AP goes so far as to suggest that Westbrook really
isn't worth the salary he's seeking:

"Westbrook's size -- he's
generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds in Philadelphia's media
guide -- caused doubts he'd be able to handle the rigors of being a featured back." (bold mine)

What I want to know just from this excerpt is WHO TOLD AP THERE WERE DOUBTS ABOUT
WESTBROOKS' SIZE? This reporter words his sentence in a classic passive voice so we understand
that the reporter himself is the one expressing those doubts. No one in the story is quoted as
suggesting such doubts.

Further, when people in football talk about a running back's size and about the "rigors" of being a
featured back, they're generally talking about a player thought to be injury-prone. (This is exactly the
way scouts and writers like ESPN.com's John Clayton talked about Maurice Clarett.) But Westbrook
lost only one game to injury last season -- to a broken rib. Does a broken rib heal in such a short
time? Westbrook hasn't gone so far as Kellen Winslow Jr. to call himself a soldier, but seems to me
that missing only one game to a broken rib is a solid example of how Westbrook can cowboy up.

Westbrook also sat out two games of the postseason in 2003 because of a torn tricep, but neither of
these injuries -- for which he sat out a total of three games in three years -- strike me as examples of
how injury-prone Westbrook is.

I was surprised the AP story referenced Terrell Owens' struggles to renegotiate his contract with the
team, though the reporter has conveniently forgotten every other player in recent years who's had a
hard time getting a raise out of the Eagles. No mention of the most recent news of Philly's stingy ways
-- DT Corey Simon's skedaddling to Indianapolis. Nor does the reporter cite Jeremiah Trotter's or DE
Hugh Douglas' situations a couple years ago that saw both leave the City of Brotherly Love for cities
where they might get paid the money they believed they were worth. Who needs love when you can't
get respect? Only when Trotter was injured did he return to the Eagles, who generously offered the
All-Pro the veterans minimum. Douglas returned from Jacksonville after a disappointing season on a
team he felt didn't suit him. The Eagles, ever business-like,
released the 10-year veteran Douglas on
Sept. 3, after he struggled to regain form after offseason shoulder surgery.

And the Philadelphia Scrooges don't stop at denying their veteran stars the sort
of salaries and bonuses other teams' players are earning. Another of the
team's cap-room-saving techniques is to look out for quality young players, and
sign them to long-term contracts well in advance of their rookie contract
expiration dates. The Eagles have signed cornerbacks Lito Shepperd and
Sheldon Brown through 2011 and 2012, respectively -- believing that both will
likely outperform their contracts, but will be stuck with what Philly gave them
before they knew how good they were.

Not one whiff of the history of the Eagles' antagonisitic bean-counting taints
this Associated Press account. Instead, it's Brian Westbrook that's the problem.
Brian Westbrook that's making a stink about money. The athlete is always the problem.

Is Philly's approach just good business? Sure, in the short-term it's paid off handsomely. But maybe
not so in the long run, as we've seen with the Terrell Owens disaster. As it is, next year the Eagles will
likely be forced to shop for yet another No. 1 running back and yet another No. 1 wideout. At this rate,
Philly won't be in the running for another NFC championship, let alone another Super Bowl.

But as long as the sports media continue to chastise athletes for holding out and making demands
for more money, coaches and team officials will feel justified in -- maybe even emboldened to --
squeezing their players for more than they'll pay them. And why not? When owners and teams have
the press as ready foot soldiers, that's all they need to quash whatever skirmish their athletes might
kick up.

If you ask me, "embedded" journalism may have been made popular during the American siege of
Iraq, but it was invented long, long ago by none other than sports reporters.
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