Tiki should realize opinions are part of the business

October 27th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Tiki should realize opinions are part of the business


NEW YORK - Tiki Barber, already planning for his next career, got in his car every Tuesday morning during the football season and drove from his Manhattan apartment to a television studio in Stamford, Conn., where we sat on the set together for four hours every week for two years.
Not once during the taping of "This Week In Football," on the YES Network, did Barber give the slightest impression he thought I was an "idiot." Actually the perception was that he thought I was pretty smart, especially on the occasions when I would look over his "Tiki's Take" commentaries and make suggestions he appreciated.
But it was reported in the New York Daily News on Thursday that Barber had called me an "idiot" on his Sirius radio show Tuesday night. I've had my share of disagreements with athletes and coaches and have always enjoyed the verbal sparring, but Barber was out of line. This came after he initiated a locker room confrontation with me Monday night in Dallas.
Barber never even flinched when I used to criticize him in the Daily News or on our show for his fumbling problem that could have ruined his career before the Giants hired Tom Coughlin and he gave him a new way to carry the ball.
This time, however, I apparently struck a nerve deeper than a root canal by claiming his retirement announcement last week would serve as a season-long distraction the Giants didn't need. Did I call him an idiot for unnecessarily making himself the story in the middle of the season and right before the Giants' biggest game of the year?
Of course not.
I never questioned his character, just his judgment. He's always been one of the good guys.
If Barber is going to make the media his next career, he must develop thicker skin. How will he survive in this business if he can't do it without resorting to name-calling? Can he criticize somebody on television without calling them an idiot? He will be smart enough to figure it out.
Barber and I exchanged several E-mails Wednesday. I told him I never thought he would stoop to the level of calling me an "idiot" for simply expressing an opinion he didn't like. He indicated he was referring more to ESPN's Michael Irvin and Tom Jackson than me, but in listening to the Sirius tape, he mentioned me first. I just want to go on record that I am not an idiot, although it is an argument I have with my wife all the time.
I began covering the NFL when Barber was 3 years old and can sense when I believe something will be a distraction. In this case, polling his Giants teammates on the Barber Issue, as he suggested should have been done, was not required, although I felt confident that trustworthy people shared my opinion.
Just tell me who this announcement benefited other than Tiki? His business manager, Mark Lepselter, is telling anyone who will listen that the networks are falling over themselves to sign up his client. By getting his pending career free agency out there, it increases his leverage. Barber insists he never wanted the news to be reported, but he is savvy enough that he could have controlled the flow of information if he truly wanted.
If the Giants are mentally tough enough to keep winning despite all the Tiki Talk, then maybe this will be a Super Bowl year. It's been All Tiki, All The Time since the story broke on Oct. 18, so it's fair to question whether Barber did the right thing. Can Coughlin really be thrilled about this?
Barber no longer does the YES show, but until last week, our television experience together made our relationship unique. I looked at him beyond just being an athlete and believed he viewed me differently than most of the group that surrounds his locker every day. He has been treated as well by the media as any New York athlete in the last 10 years.
He is not quitting on the Giants. Just watch him play. The issue was not whether his imminent retirement would distract him, but what impact for this season the news about the best player on the team would have on his teammates. It's too early to make that judgment, even after the victory in Dallas. He failed to understand part of the job is to express opinions.
Barber certainly has every right to walk away on his own terms. Not many football players leave before they are told to leave. It's just that his timing is off by announcing it midseason. He has done an incredible job setting himself up for his post-football life, putting in 18-hour days that start at 4 a.m. on his Tuesday day off and that should pay off for him. And somehow it has not affected his production on the field.
When I walked into the Giants' locker room at Texas Stadium after they beat the Cowboys on Monday night, Barber gave a sarcastic answer to my question as I stood alone with him. Then, he declared, "I have a big problem with you. You really hurt me."
He walked away. When he returned to his locker, I was talking to Jim Finn, who had the locker right next to Barber. I leaned down and told Barber I was sorry he felt that way and he knew how to reach me if he wanted to continue the conversation. I had 40 minutes until deadline and needed to leave. He decided to keep it going right then, in the middle of the locker room. His voice got loud, I defended my position and his voice got louder. He was making a scene.
To me, it was all part of the business, which any idiot would know.