When you mix gossip columnists and athletes, bad things tend to happen.
While many other celebrities (actors, musicians, comedians, performance artists, clowns, mimes, etc.) have publicists that seek out mentions in newspaper gossip columns – a profession quickly going the way of the milkman, the typewriter manufacturer, the encyclopedia salesman, the TV repairman – Twitter is beginning to make the gossip columnist obsolete. In the social media world, their best sources are no better than @ILiveInAVanDownByTheRiver420. More gossip is broken by TMZ and partiers with the foresight to film celebrity gaffes than the old-school gossip columnist and their standard "insiders confirm," "a little bird told me" and "close pals say" standbys.
When gossip columnists step on the toes of NFL players, it is tantamount to a guy with skeet-savvy shotgun acumen yelling "Pull!" Don't bring that mess up in here. They typically have adverse consequences. No happy ending here. Typically the only thing left is a grainy halo of dust falling to the ground – the final incarnation of what previously was a fully-formed and relatively substantial clay pigeon.
A few years back, a local Twin Cities newspaper gossip columnist got her sports department into a collective midseason ice bath when she made some salacious comments in the direction of Jared Allen. At the time, Allen was the unapologetic owner of a luxurious mullet – a fashion statement as lush as Andy Reid's super-absorbent lip candy. He seemed like an easy target. To all outside appearances, Allen was a wild man. Nobody ever questioned his silverback status as a full-grown young man. The gossip columnist went with a juicy blurb relating the fidelity percentage of pro athletes and the hell-storm that followed from Allen's end came with furious anger. It included not speaking to any reporter from the same newspaper the columnist worked for or the TV station with which she also had a relationship. It lasted more than a couple of days.
That columnist continues to make rare appearances at Winter Park, but typically gets a welcome as if she had arrived at the locker room door bearing anthrax-laced blankets as gifts.
Such situations aren't limited to Minnesota. They happen all the time in every city. In New York, if you're out in public doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, you get busted. Gossip columnists in the Big Apple have it bit easier when it comes to gossiping about athletes. Their gravy train rolls on biscuit wheels. The rest of the country? Not so much. If they get the hackles up on a athlete for a beloved local franchise, you best have your facts straight – or at least logical.
On Tuesday, Chicago Sun-Times gossip columnist Michael Sneed went on record as saying that Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher was getting close to signing a contract that would continue his career and, for the first time, not as a member of the Chicago Bears. The two teams mentioned as potential landing spots (according to close pals) were the Broncos and the Vikings.
This intriguing tidbit came out Tuesday morning.
It should be noted that Sneed, who despite the spelling of the first name, is a female gossip columnist. I don't know if it's pronounced like the typical version of the name Michael. I don't really care. What a compensated former bartender at Aquavit is passing along is of even less interest. But when gossip columnists start trying to break sports news, gossip has to pass the litmus test. Unfortunately for Sneed, it didn't play out as planned and the shells were pumped into the chamber with the shooters ready to yell out that all-to-familiar phrase to obliterate the clay pigeon in question.
By early afternoon, confirmed sports reporters in Denver had effectively quashed even the remotest Broncos' interest, including such items unknown to "insiders" or "little birds" that Denver hasn't even had a meeting with Urlacher or his representatives and none are scheduled.
Similarly, the Vikings denied any interest in Urlacher. They essentially did that for a couple of reporters, including one from Viking Update, on draft weekend. Which is why chasing down that story was as high on the to-do list as cleaning the oven. By Tuesday afternoon, a Vikings source, not a bartender, told NFL.com the same thing – developing their younger linebacker talent is first priority. Signing Urlacher isn't.
"Brian has been a great player in our league for a long, long time. He was a thorn in our side for many years," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said Wednesday morning on NFL Network. "At this point we want to take a look at the guys on our roster and give them a chance to compete for the middle linebacker position and then we'll see where it takes us."
What makes this story so sad is that, even if the Vikings had an interest in Urlacher, it likely wouldn't be until after June 1, when the second quarter of the NFL fiscal year begins. June 1 has historically been a time when teams rid themselves of extra veteran weight against the salary cap. In the new-look NFL, teams are just as likely to tell a player to take a hike in February as June, but, if the Vikings were to have any interest in giving Urlacher a legitimate look, it wouldn't come until after June 1, which, at last check, is more than two weeks away.
The Chicago sports scene has enjoyed more than its share of infamous Michaels. There's Michael Jordan. Michael Ditka. Michael Wilbon. Michael Martz. Michael Tice. Michael Sandberg, the non-athletic accountant younger brother of Cubs star Ryne Sandberg. Michael Sneed hasn't joined that elite sports fraternity of Chi-town Mikes.
Perhaps gossip columnists should stick to celebrities who relish blurbs in their fact-challenged stories. The NFL has a way of giving revenge (not bouquets) when gossip crosses the line into the realm of verifiable news.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Holler: Urlacher rumor shot down … again
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