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On the Patriots and Hot Take Journalism

Some meandering, rambling thoughts on hot take journalism.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers-Training Camp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s only fitting that I open an article about hot take journalism with a hot take of my own:

I like Rob Parker.

I’ll go even farther than that. I absolutely love that guy. He cracks me up. And if I’m being honest... he’s phenomenal at what he does.

As a Patriots fan, I know that it’s blasphemy to say something like that. After all, Rob Parker has been adamantly insisting that the Patriots won’t be heading to another Super Bowl and Brady is done for the better part of 10 years. That man simply refuses to give Brady any credit for anything, no matter what Tommy B does, and he never hesitates to bring up a cheating scandal when given the opportunity. At this point, God himself could come down from heaven and tell Rob Parker that the Patriots never cheated and that Tom Brady was the greatest ever, and he’d accuse God of looking at the NFL through rose-colored glasses. Rob Parker is the kind of reporter who makes a decision and sticks to it regardless of what his eyes show him. He’ll adamantly insist that it isn’t going to rain tomorrow -”is it going to rain? NO WAY, NO HOW!” - and then when he comes into work the next day soaking wet in the middle of a downpour, he’ll try and spin it, accusing everyone else of being a prisoner of the moment and failing to see that it’s actually a thunderstorm, not rain, and he was totally right in his prediction. It’s hysterical, it’s hot take journalism at its finest, and I have no choice but to tip my cap to him on being one of the best in the business at it. It doesn’t make me respect him, or his kind, as a journalist in any way, but I can very much appreciate it.

If that makes me a lousy Pats fan, then so be it.

Whether we like it or not, hot take journalism isn’t anything new; it used to be called tabloid reporting, or sensationalism, or unfettered, unwonton hackery (that last one might be exclusive to yours truly), but for as long as there has been folks reporting the news, any news, there have also been folks reporting a bastardized version of it. Sports. Politics. Entertainment. Music. Whatever the category, you’re always going to have your ragtag crew of reporters spouting the craziest stuff you’ve ever heard, all under the guise of legitimacy, as you rant and rave about how the hell these morons even have a job.

And perhaps no team, across any sport, has been the target of hot take journalists more than the New England Patriots. LeBron James may be a close second, with honorable mention to the Golden State Warriors (noticing a pattern there?), but you’d be hard pressed to find a team the hot takers love to talk about more than New England. There’s a fairly long list of reasons why the Pats are always on the list; of course, it’s primarily their sustained success, but their prickly head coach, prettyboy quarterback, rule violations (alleged and actual), and the fact that almost everyone outside of the northeast completely despises them don’t help any. Hell, it’s already started; in just the past few weeks, Tom Brady is, somehow, simultaneously upset about being underpaid and devalued and the recipient of shady, off-the-books money filtered through his various businesses in a way that will allow the Patriots to pay him millions while keeping his cap hit down. He put his house on the market and then took it down again, which is simultaneously a sign that he’s getting ready to move away from Boston and a sign that he’s moving closer to Gillette Stadium.His new contract is somehow proof positive in New England’s desire to keep him around until he’s 45 and also proof positive that they’re hedging their bets and being draconian in their roster building. As long as the Patriots keep winning, they’ll be the target of hot takes, and there isn’t anything we can do about it.

Nor should we want to do anything about it, to be honest.

I know there are a large number of Patriots fans who can’t stand the shoddy, sensationalized version of what used to be real, actual reporting that seems to have taken over the media landscape. People are frustrated that they can’t enjoy rooting for their favorite team without wading through an ocean of gobbledygook in search of legitimate sports talk and genuine analysis. I’ve even spoken to some people that haven’t been able to fully enjoy this remarkable run because every time they turn on the radio there’s some jackass taking a Twitter rumor and reporting it as fact, or crucifying Belichick’s arrogance for going for it on 4th and goal with the Pats up 45-10 with less than a minute to play, or trying to point to the fact that Brady hits the open receiver as some kind of evidence that he’s nothing more than a system quarterback.

It’s a shame, really, because, in its own weird way, hot take journalism is just as legitimate as actual journalism.

At least that’s the case I’m going to try to make here. As we get ready to head into yet another NFL season, a season in which the Patriots are likely going to once again win the AFC East and make another deep playoff run, we all need to come to grips with the fact that we’re all in for much, much more of the same when it comes to the coverage this team is going to get. Knowing that already has some people in a rage, and the season hasn’t even started yet.

But one thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that watching football is supposed to be fun, and if it isn’t fun for you, all the time, win or lose, you’re doing something wrong. So I thought I’d try to maybe help those whose shoes I was once in and shed a little more light on hot take journalism, based on my own experience with it and the efforts I’ve made to avoid it, in hopes that understanding it might help some folks exist with it more peacefully. Know thy enemy and all that.

There are, in my opinion, four main reasons for hot take journalism, and here they are.

It’s easy and it works. I have been writing for Pats Pulpit for almost a decade and have penned hundreds of articles on this team, about everything from my Fan Notes to offseason countdowns to player analysis to personnel moves to game coverage and everything in between. And without a doubt, by a country mile, the article I wrote that got the most traffic was a satire piece called “The Patriots Cheat at Coin Flips, Too”, published all the way back in 2015. New England was on a bit of a coin toss win hot streak at the time, and so I jokingly attributed it to an elaborate cheating scheme as opposed to the facts, i.e. blind dumb luck. Apparently, people couldn’t get enough of it; I racked up over 500,000 pageviews in a matter of hours, and had the piece picked up by both MSN and Yahoo!. By the time folks realized it was a humor piece with no merit to it whatsoever, it was too late. They had already clicked on it, the pageview was registered, the money was made (albeit not for me, alas), and that was that. It was a stupid throwaway article that I wrote in about 10 minutes while bored, and it remains to this day my most read piece ever and it isn’t even close.

In this modern media landscape, traffic rules the day. A click is a click, and all pageviews are created equal in the eyes of the bottom line. Spending a few hours breaking down game film and elaborating on Joe Thuney’s lateral movement when he executes a pull block will get maybe 1/10th of the traffic that coming in with a hot take about a player, a team, or a game will. Even better, as I can tell you from personal experience, hot takes don’t require much work at all, and you don’t have to be overly intelligent to do it. There are reporters out there that do phenomenal work breaking down film, analyzing plays, and offering legitimate analysis based on what actually went down on a Sunday, and I’d fathom a guess that they’re getting paid the same amount - if not less - then the hot takers of the world. And if you saw an opportunity to make money doing a lot of work or make the same money doing significantly less work, which one would you choose? It’s not the most stand-up way to do things, but when you need to make a living, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Name recognition. There are literally hundreds, possibly thousands, of reporters who make a living covering sports, be it on the beat or in the national spotlight. Of these reporters, your average Patriots fan might be able to name five or six that they especially enjoy reading, along with maybe another handful of writers who cover the Patriots strictly for the love of the game - bloggers, podcasters, website hosts, and all of the other folks with day jobs (like the staff here at Pats Pulpit) who are all providing fantastic content for little to no money. There are plenty of other Patriots reporters, and sports reporters in general, that nobody has ever heard of. But I bet you almost every Patriots fan can name every single person who tries to take the Patriots and Tom Brady down at every opportunity. Shannon Sharpe. Max Kellerman. Chris Simms. Rob Parker. Bernard Pollard seems to have just gotten into the game (shockingly, at the same time he launched a podcast! What are the odds????). There’s a handful of Twitter eggs out there who like to rile folks up with their opinions. Sports journalism is an insanely competitive field, and to be able to stand out like that, in any capacity, is an incredible feat. And to give credit where credit is due, a lot of these guys are very, very good at it. Their objectives are quite simple: get fans fired up, generate traffic, receive mentions, and occupy real estate in people’s heads. Whether they’re correct or not in their takes is completely irrelevant here, as I already mentioned that traffic is the name of the game. You need to plant your flag any way that you can, and it’s a fast track towards the top if you come out with an anti-Patriots take.

And to be fair, it works both ways. There are tons of Brady fanboys out there who have made a name for themselves screaming GOAT at the top of their lungs and refusing to acknowledge anyone else’s arguments. We all know who they are as well. If you’re trying to make a name for yourself, just pick a side and go all in.

It’s necessary. I don’t like to admit it, but I can understand and appreciate the need for hot take journalism, especially in sports. At the end of the day, I don’t think there is an entity with a more lopsided ratio of passion to importance than sports; we yawn through news about nuclear threats, rampant disease, and impending global destruction while simultaneously lying awake all night steaming over a blown call or an OT loss. And with that passion for such utter inanity comes people talking about it, and the long and short of it is that sports talk can’t be a bunch of people sitting around all day agreeing with each other. There needs to be debate and discussion, and in order for there to be debate there have to be people that take the other stance. If for some reason everyone couldn’t be more excited about the fact that 2+2=4, there would have to be some folks out there in the media who wanted us all to know that, technically, that isn’t true. Disputation is the key to good storytelling, and every good story needs a villain. To a degree, hot take journalists fill that role.

Be honest - you secretly love it. You may say that you hate it, and that it takes away from your enjoyment of the game. You may listen to Max Kellerman make his Cliff prediction for the fourth year in a row now and wonder to yourself how the hell that guy is still employed. You may be able to put together an entire coffee table book of internet comments and Tweets you posted using stats and facts to disprove the latest “Brady is a system QB” drivel. But how many of those same people, those hot take haters, can’t get to their computers fast enough on the heels of a big Patriots win or deep playoff run to watch these guys squirm? To hear them try and spin their way out of it? How sweet was it to watch Kellerman have to eat another Patriots Super Bowl Victory, or watch Rob Parker resort to the fact that Tommy B didn’t win the Super Bowl MVP as his only evidence for Brady’s decline? You can lie to yourself and say you didn’t watch any of that if you want...but you all did, you all loved it, and you all know it. Maybe you even left a comment somewhere hating on Rob Parker as he failed spectacularly at backtracking.

And every watch, every Tweet, every comment, makes your enjoyment of this great game of football a little bit better. Sure, we’re all going to be fuming mad when the Patriots suffer their next playoff loss, whenever that may be, and some idiot goes on the air to gloat about how he has been right the whole time and completely ignores the last 10 years of documented, irrefutable blunders, but that’s the price we pay for success on the field. We’re sports fans. We’re all massive hypocrites who love to hate. No need to deny it. Embrace it.

And if you really don’t like it... don’t engage. It’s really that simple, and nothing will make these guys go away faster than being completely ignored. For some of you (okay, a lot of you), that’s going to be a herculean task; to see someone chirping at the Patriots or Tom Brady and not respond will be your version of keeping a straight face as your emperor talks about his best friend. You hear someone who hates on the Patriots, and you just have to clap back. Keeping your mouth shut gets you all twitchy and your blood pressure goes through the roof. So if you can’t resist, then fair enough - but just know that every time you do that, you give the very people you hate a MASSIVE win. They’re just dunking all over you, setting up shop in your brain, and stuffing you right into a locker every time you engage in some way, even if that engagement completely dismantles their argument and makes them look foolish. Do you honestly think any of them care about getting taken down on Twitter? Hell, do you think they even read their mentions? Of course they don’t. They just say what they’re going to say, purchase some oceanfront real estate in your heads, and sit back and enjoy their career boost as you stew and make their lives very easy. So if this stuff really gets to you...well, first, I’d kindly invite you to take a long hard look at your life and priorities if you let some talking head ruin your fandom of the six-time World Champs. But if it does really get to you, ignore it. The more people that don’t care, the more the hot takers will realize that, perhaps at last, the anti-Patriots well has run dry and they’ll move on to the next one. It won’t be long before Patrick Mahomes is an overrated system QB and Sean McVay’s arrogance is ruining Jared Goff’s rapidly closing window. And when that day comes, I promise you: we’re all going to look back very, very fondly on the days when our team was so good that the Ideal Gas Law was national news for seven straight months.

There are so, so many reasons I love writing for Pats Pulpit. My fellow staff are among the friendliest and most knowledgeable fans (because that’s what we all are, fans) I have ever come across. Our community is encouraging and rational. I’ll occasionally get emails from readers telling me how much they enjoy my writing or how my Fan Notes make Monday mornings a little easier to stomach. I also get my fair share of folks who were so incensed by my opinion that they took time out of their day to let me know that they think the Patriots are cheaters, really giving me a what’s what. But what makes me most proud about this site is that you’ll be hard-pressed to find more stat-based, fact-based, reality-based Patriots coverage anywhere on the web. You can get everything from opinion pieces to film breakdown to player profiles to daily links all in one place, produced by Patriots fans, for Patriots fans. Pats Pulpit is a blessed safe haven from all the hot take folks and other fans who can’t wait to take the Patriots down. And there are plenty more sites like ours as well, all available to you for free, if this is the kind of sports coverage you prefer.

So let hot takes have their day in the sun. They aren’t going anywhere.

Well...actually, they are. But when the hot takes are gone, so will New England’s run at the top of the NFL be. So be careful what you wish for.

And enjoy it! Football is for fun.