The black eye Jim Everett had targeted for Jim Rome's face during a talk-show confrontation last week missed, regrettably, landing instead on the already swollen face of journalism.
The proliferation of tabloid talk has so blurred the lines of the legitimate and the fringe as to raise rightful concerns about the meandering boundaries of the First Amendment.
In the aftermath of Rome's sophomoric goading of Everett, which prompted the former Ram quarterback to turn the tables on Rome and charge the TV host, it is no small wonder many of today's athletes are reluctant to cooperate with media representatives.
Rome, the hip host of ESPN2 and a daily talk radio show on XTRA in San Diego, has generally been a refreshing no-nonsense voice in the manic jock-talk medium. Rome has created his own cult following with a glossary of sports jargon that includes what he calls \o7 smack,\f7 a synonym for trash talk.
Rome, in fact, is known as "Van Smack" and prides himself on being on the cutting edge.
But in the Everett incident, Van Smack deserved to get smacked.
The stunt he pulled was irresponsible and regrettable to those who think journalism is something more than a free-speech free-for-all.
Perhaps unbeknown to Rome, there are actually guidelines to journalism. Rome trampled all over these well-established tenets in the taping of his segment with Everett, who recently was traded by the Rams to the New Orleans Saints.
Everett is no doubt deserving of examination and criticism. It comes with the territory and his $2-million salary.
And what has happened to Everett since 1989 is indeed bewildering. Maybe it was a dream, but wasn't it Everett who led the NFL in touchdown passes in 1988 and '89?
And didn't some dare mention his name in the same breath as Joe Montana?
Turns out Everett wasn't another Montana. So what?
Sure, Everett deserves to be held accountable for his shortcomings since. But no man, woman, child, or quarterback deserves to be humiliated in a public forum.
For more than two years, Rome has caustically referred to Everett on his radio show as "Chris," an obvious affront to Everett's manhood. Chris Evert, of course, is a former female tennis star. Rome's tag on Everett stemmed from the "phantom sack" Everett took in the 1989 NFC championship game, when he collapsed in the pocket without having been touched.
Everett has taken his media lumps ever since. Considering Rome's insults, I'm surprised Everett agreed to go on Rome's cable show.
He did, though, and appeared willing to tackle what should have been tough, but fair, questions--questions that begged to be asked.
Instead, Rome resorted to grade-school taunting, immediately referring to Everett as "Chris."
During his rebuttal on radio the next day, Rome justified that as being up front with his guest, given that he had long been calling Everett by that name behind his back.
"Although I regret (the incident), I've called him Chris on radio, on TV, and when he came in live studio, I was not \o7 not \f7 going to call him that," Rome said on the air.
Edward R. Murrow would have been proud.
Rome, clearly, was out to pick a fight. Calmly, at first, Everett said he did not appreciate the disparaging nickname.
Rome was unrelenting. Everett, starting to seethe, suggested that Rome take a station break to settle the matter off the air.
Rome refused. Everett, now incensed, said he'd bet the host would not use the name again.
Rome, of course, did, at which point Everett turned a table over and pushed the host to the floor. Everett then pursued Rome and hovered over him before a studio worker separated the two.
It's a pretty good bet that while cowering on the floor, Rome was no longer questioning Everett's manhood.
Given the situation, Everett had every right to react. Thankfully, no punches were thrown and there were no injuries, other than the gaping wound suffered by Rome's credibility.
Rome was knee-deep in damage control the next day, maintaining that Everett had known in advance that he was going to be called "Chris" and had agreed to come on anyway.
"We were not lying in wait," Rome said. "We did not ambush him. It was not a ploy for publicity. You know the show. He knows the show. He just snapped. That's the way it is."
The closest Rome got to an apology was the admission that he had teased "Chris" too hard.
"Maybe the third time I said it I was overboard," Rome said.
Because of Rome's Morton Downey Jr. routine, we were denied answers to legitimate questions Everett apparently was ready to answer. He had told Rome's producers beforehand that he was ready to clear the air on his tumultuous eight-year career with the Rams.
Might that have been more interesting, journalistically, than a pipsqueak talk-show host's quest for self-glorification?
But, boy, didn't that fight make a great sound bite?
In his glossary of terms, Rome refers to his audience as "the jungle."
In that context, Rome the interviewer must have been "Cheetah."