Media Drops the Ball on Haley Story

During the close of Friday night's preseason game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens, a well-known Chiefs' representative was steaming mad at the actions of Ravens' head coach John Harbaugh.

With the Ravens already up 24-13 and his defense having intercepted a fourth down pass from Chiefs' quarterback Ricky Stanzi, Harbaugh sent his offense onto the field with slightly over a minute left in the game. Under normal circumstances, a team in Baltimore's position would try to run out the clock or simply take a knee.

But it's the preseason, of course, and Harbaugh still had over a minute of game time to evaluate the back-end of his roster. So third-string quarterback Hunter Cantwell faked a handoff and launched a 40-yard pass to undrafted rookie receiver LaQuan Williams.

Williams made the reception at the Chiefs' three yard line, but failed to get in the endzone. So Harbaugh used his remaining timeouts until the Ravens were able to punch it in for a last-second score, resulting in a final tally of 31-13.

Did the Ravens really need to get that extra touchdown and make the final score look more lopsided than the game really was? Harbaugh himself admitted after the game that his decision was debatable, so there's hardly a clear-cut answer on the subject. But it doesn't really matter for our purposes, as we're not here to analyze Baltimore's last-minute strategy in a meaningless exhibition game.

Let's get back to the Chiefs' employee who was so upset with Harbaugh. That would be the famed "Voice of the Chiefs", radio announcer Mitch Holthus, who not only voiced his displeasure during the final minute of the game, but even wondered aloud about what Harbaugh's father Jack would think of his son's behavior.

In fact, judging by the post-game video on the Chiefs' web site, Holthus was still annoyed by Harbaugh's actions well after the game had ended.

If you've been following this story since Friday evening, though, you probably would have suspected that the angry Chief in question was head coach Todd Haley. Directly from NFL.com, here's a small sampling of what's been said in the media since the game:

If Kansas City Chiefs coach Todd Haley appeared upset at the end of Friday night's 31-13 preseason loss to Baltimore, he was, and he let coach John Harbaugh know about his displeasure with the Ravens' decision to call a pair of timeouts in the game's final minute.

Haley, not one to mince words, apparently had some strong ones for Harbaugh when the two met at midfield, just moments after the Ravens scored with five seconds to play on a 1-yard touchdown run by rookie running back Anthony Allen.


Oh, boy. Here we go again. Another dust-up between Haley and an opposing head coach, coming on the heels of the infamous Josh McDaniels finger-wagging incident last year. And during the preseason, no less? Come on, Todd, what are you doing?

Hang on a minute, though. If an upset Haley "had some strong (words)" for Harbaugh, as the NFL.com article clearly says he did, then when exactly did he express them? Haley's certainly not shy in these situations, so the timing of an incident like this should be pretty easy to pinpoint.

Unfortunately, though, the author of the story doesn't seem to know the answer. That's why the word "apparently" was slipped into this (and numerous other) accounts of what went down at mid-field after the game.

"Apparently"? This wasn't some training camp scrimmage off in the middle of nowhere. We're talking about an officially sanctioned NFL game. It was broadcast live in Baltimore and Kansas City and then re-aired later that night on the NFL Network. Why the need for a disclaimer?

If a story has to rely on "apparently", it's not that big of a leap to "supposedly". In other words, they can't actually prove it, but they'll go ahead and say it anyway. How could something like this be uncertain, though? If an angry maniac like Haley was delivering "strong words" to someone, wouldn't it be obvious from watching the footage?

Thanks to our good friend C.E. Wendler, we can see that footage for ourselves right here:



Before we continue, here's a brief recap of what could be seen:

- Haley shakes Harbaugh's hand, slapping him on the arm as he does so.
- Haley begins walking away when Harbaugh continues the conversation.
- Haley appears to say the words "You've gotta do what you've gotta do". (Note: the video here is from the Ravens' TV broadcast. Though you can still make it out, Haley's lips are easier to read on the Chiefs' coverage.)
- The conversation stops as both coaches have to walk around the massive girth of Ravens' nose tackle Terrence Cody.
- Harbaugh nods and taps Haley on the arm.
- Haley gives Harbaugh a thumbs-up.
- Harbaugh points back at Haley as they separate.

What conclusions can we draw from this video? Well, for starters, absolutely nothing about the exchange appeared heated. Haley didn't seem upset. The two coaches appeared to end the brief discussion on a positive note. And Cody, as the late Gorilla Monsoon might say, is a walking condominium. Honestly, even Dexter McCluster has to wonder what the Chiefs were thinking in the second round last year.

But let's go ahead and operate under the assumption that Haley was legitimately unhappy about the Ravens running up the score. It's certainly not hard to believe – from what we've seen of Haley over the last two years, he could become irate if they have the wrong flavor of Gatorade on the sideline.

But does anything shown in the video actually support the notion that he was upset? Everyone reading this has seen what Haley looks like when he's mad, and that guy isn't visible anywhere in the footage. Granted, we don't actually see him as he approaches Harbaugh. So for a brief moment there, perhaps he was filled with the classic Haley rage – his wagging-finger fully extended with a cold, exacting disapproval – and he immediately snapped out of it. But that doesn't seem too likely.

So if Haley's behavior on the field didn't prompt the story of an angry man delivering harsh words, then where did those accounts come from? Let's start with each coach's post-game comments, in particular Harbaugh's, who immediately discussed the situation.

"First of all, just addressing the end of the game, and I just addressed it with our team," he began, "I want to apologize to the Chiefs if they feel like we were not doing the right thing at the end of the game. That wasn't the mindset, okay?"

This apology raises a key question. Since Harbaugh's opening comments to the media weren't prompted by anything they said to him, could it have been the same situation down on the field? Did Harbaugh, all on his own, feel the need to explain himself to Haley? Or was he only responding to something that Haley said to him first?

Remember, going back to the video, it was clearly Harbaugh – not Haley – initiating the discussion as they walked off the field. And note Harbaugh's comment that he addressed the topic with his team. When Haley yelled at McDaniels, does anyone think McDaniels responded by walking into his locker room and speaking to the Broncos about the criticisms Haley made? Of course not. Well, maybe if it was done sarcastically, he did.

Does Harbaugh have so much respect for Haley that he immediately felt the need to address Haley's concerns with both his team and the media? Or was an overly-defensive Harbaugh determined to make it clear – to Haley, to his players, to the media – that he hadn't meant anything by what happened?

We don't know who broached the subject first, but Harbaugh's subsequent comments suggest that Haley did, in fact, say something about the issue.

"I think he said something like ‘I don't know about that'," Harbaugh said, "and I just said ‘Preseason, preseason', and he said ‘Okay'."

While that doesn't answer the question of who brought it up first, it's worth noting that "I don't know about that" sounds more like a response than an accusation. It's also difficult to put that statement into the context of the video, because again, mere moments after their handshake, Haley appeared to say "You've gotta do what you've gotta do". If Haley was initially questioning Harbaugh's actions, then he made quite a reversal in a matter of seconds. ?

Considering Harbaugh's acknowledgement that he wasn't sure of Haley's exact words, it's always possible that he may have misheard him. But even if he quoted Haley with 100% accuracy, what about Harbaugh's account suggests that Haley was angry?

"I don't know about that"? Those are the harsh words that were supposedly uttered? By a coach who probably drops at least five f-bombs while ordering breakfast? If all Haley said to Harbaugh was "I don't know about that", it was probably the nicest thing he said to anyone that entire day.

Again, we're already operating under the assumption that Haley wasn't happy with how things went down. But disagreeing with it and delivering some sort of angry lecture over it are two completely different things.

For his part, Haley had nothing bad to say about how Harbaugh handled things. Calling the Ravens "a well-coached team", Haley explained how coaches don't have much time for evaluation this offseason, basically defending Harbaugh's position. Haley echoed similar comments in a press conference on Sunday.

So if the video doesn't show any anger stemming from Haley, and neither coach's post-game comments reflected evidence of any anger, then we're still looking for an explanation for how this story developed.

Let's dig a little deeper and look at how the media initially reacted to all this. In the moments after the game, the Twitter feed of Baltimore sports radio station WNST contained some observations on the post-game interaction.

"Looked like Haley and Harbaugh might have exchanged an unpleasantry or two at midfield. Wow...some pre-season drama," read the first tweet. "Definitely looked like they did a little jawing at one another and then Harbaugh gave a dismissive wave like..."whatever"...hmmm," said the next.

We know from watching the video that this account is clearly inaccurate. Neither coach was "jawing" at the other. The "dismissive wave" was either the friendly tap Harbaugh gave Haley or the pointing he did as they walked away.

This isn't meant to criticize the person who made those observations. We don't know where he was in relation to Haley and Harbaugh, and he obviously didn't have the benefit of having a video he could replay. But in hindsight, we can safely say that their report of an "unpleasant" encounter was false.

However, that tainted version of events quickly began to spread. Directly citing WNST's account, the site NFLGridironGab.com posted a story with the dramatic headline "Todd Haley Berates John Harbaugh". They even added their own take, describing how Haley had "angrily scolded" Harbaugh as they walked off the field.

In turn, that story quickly found its way to numerous blogs and message boards. And by early Saturday morning, the "Eye on Football" blog at CBS Sports posted a story titled "Todd Haley now upset with John Harbaugh".

Though it didn't use the colorful descriptions from WNST or NFLGridironGab, the overall account – an upset Haley giving Harbaugh the ol' what-for – remained the same.

Naturally, once the "Angry Haley" story was picked up by a major outlet like CBS, it found its way to ProFootballTalk, Deadspin, and numerous other mainstream sports sites – not to mention its continued presence on Twitter. With few exceptions, the hundreds of reactions to the story mirrored that of Sports Illustrated's Gregg Doyel, who tweeted "Is there a bigger baby than Haley?"

But there had to be more to come on the subject. Surely the Kansas City media – the people who cover Haley on a daily basis, the people with more of a reason to pursue this topic than any other outlet – would bring some much-needed clarity to the proceedings.

Right?

"Haley and his Baltimore counterpart, John Harbaugh, appeared to have some cross words during their brief post-game meeting on the field," wrote the Kansas City Star. "I was utterly shocked that Haley tried to call out a coach" said an article on another KC-themed sports site.

Well, so much for that.

But there we have it. Not even 24 hours after the Chiefs/Ravens game ended, the story of an angry Todd Haley having, at best, "strong words" for John Harbaugh became an accepted part of NFL lore – despite no real evidence that it ever actually happened.

Let's be clear about one thing. If it wasn't for Haley's behavior during the McDaniels' situation, this latest story would have never spread like it did. In that respect, he really has no one to blame but himself. Not that he's complaining.

But does that one incident justify numerous media outlets passing along a story without even casting the slightest critical light on it? Is this really how things work now?

This goes well beyond the Haley story, by the way. You can look around the entire sports landscape and see how stories and opinions are being formed by inaccurate statements on Twitter, misleading summaries of interviews or quotes, and loose handling of the facts.

There are dozens of examples we could name, but if you have a moment, just look up the story about a purposely-bogus tweet regarding quarterback Pat Devlin. It says more about the current state of affairs than any long-winded column ever could.

It's unfortunate, but actual facts just don't seem as important anymore. Stories get blindly passed around like a hot potato, particularly if they drive a certain narrative or push a specific agenda. These days it's easier to just ignore the details, slip in "apparently" and other such disclaimers, and be done with it.

And it's hard to see it getting any better.


WARPAINT ILLUSTRATED MESSAGE BOARDS:
Should the media have made a bigger deal over Haley vs. Harbaugh?


For all the news, notes and quotes on the Chiefs, visit WarpaintIllustrated.com



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