If Aaron Rodgers goes to the Jets, the New York media will have a field day

One of the meanest and possibly funniest photos I’ve ever seen happened when I moved to New York in the early 1990s, about to begin a nearly 15-year career covering the NFL there. The photo was a teachable moment, relevant even now, as Aaron Rodgers seems to be is on his way to join the Jets and enter the wild media universe

Ray Handley replaced Bill Parcells as the Giants’ head coach. Handley’s tenure was an unmitigated disaster, and one of the reasons for that was that Handley had no idea how to deal with the New York media. The packages both intimidated and charmed the media; Handley was afraid of that.

At one point, Handley canceled his press conference on the same day it was announced that running back Phil Simms needed elbow surgery. Handley made this decision after more than four dozen members of the media appeared.

In response to Handley’s mishandling of the moment, a New York tabloid published a picture of Handley’s empty chair. Another did something that was so over the top that I still remember it to this day. It shows a picture of Handley’s face, with a gas gauge on his forehead, and the needle on the gauge was empty.

“As far as the media, I think it was just an unknown,” Handley said at the time. “As for most other things about the job, I felt like I knew what to expect. But dealing with the media on a daily basis was an unknown for me. I don’t know if it’s that hard, but it’s taking more time than I expected when I took the job.”

New York media was Twitter before Twitter. Almost maniacal in the do-it-yourself culture before it became more popular decades later. Remember the memes, but instead of on your phone, they’re on the back page.

That hasn’t changed since Handley, and it’s what Rodgers, with skin as thick as a singlet, could step into.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the team’s first overall pick in 2005.

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I’ve covered the NFL in Dallas, Boston and Washington, and there are definitely other tough markets like Chicago, but New York is the toughest for me because of the sheer volume of people covering the teams and the overall aggressiveness of the reporters.

The criticism Rodgers has faced over the years in Green Bay isn’t even in the same universe of what could happen in New York. Beat writers in Green Bay are hardworking and smart. They are also sources of traditional media. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel won’t put Rodgers on its cover with an empty gas can (unfortunately).

NFL writers in New York are also extremely hardworking and good at their jobs. They will be fair to Rodgers. The problem will arise when things go wrong – and they will.

Some players in New York are very bothered by the negative coverage, others don’t care. Rodgers is known for his thin skin. His skin has the consistency of a cell membrane. It’s not even controversial to say this. This is a well-known fact. He is a diva, rejecting guilt and resentment. He has objections that go back to the Pleistocene era. One slight criticism, one crossword, one thing he deems disloyal, and you’re on his list, and that list stretches from Green Bay to Alpha Centauri.

There was a small price to pay for that kind of behavior in Green Bay, but if he behaves like that in New York, he will be completely wiped out by the media.

If Rodgers lied in New York about vaccination the way he did to the media in Green Bay, it would prompt some scathing headlines on the back (and front) pages.

Writers in New York can be tough, but they’re only part of the problem Rodgers may be facing. Writers don’t design those back pages, and I’m here to tell you that those pages absolutely can be inexorable. While the power of print newspapers has waned in New York (and everywhere else), they are still sometimes an amazing sight to behold, and they still have a certain power.

And when those sites target Rodgers — and they will — it will infuriate the quarterback.

One of the other great examples of New York tabloidism (and there are so many) was when the New York Daily News and New York Post, after a game where Tom Brady complained about the officiating, put Brady’s face on a baby’s body. The Daily News headline was “CRYBRADY.” The baby was wearing diapers with the Patriots logo and had chest hair.

This is, after all, the same environment that produced the biggest headline in newspaper history. In the 1980s, when a decapitated body was found in a bar, the Post headline read: “HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLES BAR.” A chef’s kiss.

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If Rodgers goes to the Jets, on the field, he’ll be fine. I wouldn’t be surprised if he led the team to the playoffs in his first season. The Jets have significant talent on that roster and a very intelligent and resourceful head coach in Robert Saleh.

But there’s no doubt Rodgers will be polarizing in that locker room, too. It’s who he is. He is one of those who naturally, with little effort, create abysses in these areas.

There was a devastating story from Bleacher Report in 2019 that showed just how awful Rodgers can be. Rodgers denied the story was accurate, but I believed every word she said. Anyone who knows Rodgers even a little bit knows he can be just that.

The Jets, if Rodgers goes there, will see that side of him. It’s a lock and when they do, those stories will leak, they’ll be reported and the fun will begin.

Tabloid entertainment in New York.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: If Aaron Rodgers goes to the Jets, the New York media will have a field day

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