We're to blame for unfair 'Audible'

Posted Nov. 13, 2012 @ 12:49 p.m.
Posted By Hub Arkush

In the NFL, an audible is when the quarterback goes to the line of scrimmage with a play already called, sees something on the other side of the line he either doesn’t like or thinks he can exploit and then calls out a new play for his offense.

In the new Webster’s Dictionary, “audible” is defined as “capable of being heard.”

Here at Pro Football Weekly, we have a section in each issue of our weekly publication and on our website that is called “Audibles.” It is much closer to the Webster’s definition than the NFL terminology. Our “Audibles” are things we’ve heard from NFL general managers, coaches and scouts, which we know all of you would like to hear because it’s the kind of expert, insider analysis that is not readily available to most pro football fans. The wrinkle is that because it is valuable insider information, we can only quote our corps of insiders anonymously, as it could impact their ability to do — and in some cases  keep — their jobs. And this, on many occasions, puts us right smack dab in the middle of the most gray area of journalism.

The anonymous quote is a staple of modern journalism. Without it, the world would never have learned of Watergate, the Iran-Contra scandal, the use of performance-enhancing drugs by Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Lance Armstrong and other legendary athletes, and other groundbreaking news stories in our recent history. But used improperly, the anonymous quote can be cowardly and extremely damaging to people who become the victims of those quotes, either intentionally or accidentally.

It’s been a lousy week here at PFW because we made a mistake in our “Audibles.” Someone who didn’t deserve it got hurt, and try as we might, we’ve been unable to repair the damage.

Four weeks ago, we ran an “Audible” that read “Detroit’s linebackers are average and the secondary is marginal, especially with all the injuries. The team lacks discipline. Their physicality doesn’t match their mouths — it starts with the front office and head coach. Both are overrated.” It came from another GM, unflattering to be sure, but certainly not unreasonable analysis and an opinion a serious fan might want to hear.

If I got upset and took it personally every time one of you wrote — often anonymously — to tell me what a lousy editor, writer or broadcaster I am, it would take 28 hours a day, nine days a week, 61 weeks a year. The point is it comes with the territory and taking it personally or responding is never a good idea.

Lions C Dominic Raiola apparently became aware of the “Audible,” took it very personally and fired back through some other media at both the source for being a coward for offering it anonymously, and PFW for reporting it. That is his right and that is where it should have ended.

Unfortunately, the anonymous GM caught wind of Raiola’s response and gave us another “Audible,” in which he said he saw that Raiola had called him out and took several very personal shots at Raiola, closing with, “You can put that in print.” But he chose to remain anonymous and we published it.

We were absolutely wrong. A mini firestorm has ensued among Lions fans, and no matter how hard we’ve tried to apologize, neither Raiola nor the small segment of Lions faithful who have somehow also felt wronged have been willing to accept our contrition. The second the subject became a personal attack on Raiola, as opposed to analysis of his or the Lions’ performance or talent, it should have been automatically rejected for publication unless the source wanted to put his name on it. WE SCREWED UP! It was not intentional, but we were still absolutely wrong!

Here’s my dilemma. “Audibles” is one of the most popular features at ProFootballWeekly.com, easily measured by the number of page views it gets. Most of you like it and many love it, so the easy decision to just stop publishing “Audibles” isn’t at all as easy as it might seem. So here’s where we’re at:

To Dominic Raiola, I can only say one more time — we couldn’t possibly be more sorry. To all of you: I say we’re going to try to continue to bring you one of our most popular features and make sure we get it right. But one more screw-up like this and I’ll acknowledge that we just weren’t talented enough and the “Audibles” will go away.