At least once a year, John Rocker pops up in magazine or perhaps on a radio station, reflecting on his thoroughly negative encounter with former SI scribe Jeff Pearlman. As Rocker isn’t entirely contrite — and continues to spew his toxic worldview — few amongst us, least of Pearlman, are inclined to say, “ok, he made a dumb mistake. Let’s give the big
nazi lug a second chance.”
Should we then, compare and contrast Rocker’s case with that of former ESPN football analyst / serial bullier of John Clayton, Sean Salisbury? Salisbury, as you’re probably aware, lost his lucrative Bristol gig after Deadspin revealed he’d photographed his penis and circulated the portrait via cell phone. In the months and years that have followed, Salisbury’s engaged in a war of words (and threats of legal action) with former Deadspin editor A.J. Daulerio, and found himself tossed from another sports commentary job. Interviewed by Pearlman, Salisbury openly admits the error of his ways, but still seems to come a little short of taken full accountability, arguing, “I can’t even get in front of an executive to tell him, ‘Just judge me by this, not some stupid, irrelevant cell phone picture of six years ago that didn’t harm anyone.’”
SS: There has to come a time when one TV executive says, ‘This is nonsense.’ And what I want to ask—what I dream of asking—is, to a room of TV executives, ‘If I open up your computer or phone, what will I see?’ I have one executive I sat down with a friend, and we talked about this. This was last fall. And I said, ‘This incident is over.’ And he said, ‘No doubt.’ But he broached it, and it irritated me. I said, ‘What’s in your phone?’ And he said, ‘Sean, if you knew what was in my phone it wouldn’t even compare to what’s in your phone. It’s that bad.’
I kept a journal for 12 years while I was there. I’ve got a best-selling book in my lap if I ever wanted to do it. You know? I’ve got it sitting right in my back pocket if I ever wanted to. To I’m not into taking guys’ wives and families away. I’m not into getting guys suspended and taking their careers away.
J.P.: I remember when I wrote the John Rocker piece for SI. And one of the people who told me how big of a jerk Rocker was was a kid I knew in college—who was an insanely large racist. And I think it’s interesting how … ‘Who hasn’t done something they’re embarrassed off? It seems like we judge others on a different level than we judge ourselves.
S.S.: Oh, there’s absolutely no question. The same person that may have sent a picture to his girlfriend is the same person who will judge you the most and ‘How can you do this?’ But I’ve also had plenty say, ‘Who cares?’ Put it that way—had I known I’d gone through this, I would have gotten my money worth. Had I known this would detour my life … not just my career, but my life … I would have gotten my money’s worth. Good gracious. At least I would have had a helluva sex session with an executive’s wife. I’m obviously kidding here, but your point is right—we do judge.
Keep in mind, this isn’t the first time Salibury has alluded to his ability to take down some former colleagues, if push came to shove. As for whether or not no one was actually harmed by his infractions, I don’t think it is particularly crazy to suggest a normal, safe work environment should not include receiving unsolicited photos of Salibury’s cock (tellingly, Salibury blames the furor on Harold Reynolds).
On the blackballing tip, is it entirely fair that each time Sean, his family or prospective employers Google his name, they’re greeted with stories about his precipitous fall from grace? Not exactly, but it would be very helpful if he had accomplished anything of greater consequence during his tenure at ESPN or in the time since. Even when he wasn’t playing Biff to Clayton’s George McFly, Salisbury was a hectoring, smug figure, devoid of insight or wit. Though he was hardly alone in that respect at ESPN, it’s the height of insanity to suggest he wasn’t easily replaced.
Funnily enough, even for an ex-jock with the most modest of broadcasting skills, Salisbury has no idea of how fortunate he was. “Look at some of the people who have been in trouble, who everyone will make an excuse for,” he grouses. “I guess if I were a Hall of Famer as an athlete, I guess I’d be back on the air,” (tell it to Steve Phillips!) So there you have it folks ; it’s not merely the asshole bloggers and the PC police who’ve conspired to cost Sean Salisbury his livelihood. It’s those goddamn former athletes who are fondly remembered! Thank heavens we’ve got Jeff Pealman around to diss one of ‘em : “meanwhile, Jerry Rice has a gig. Explain that one to me.” EASY, Jeff. While he’s hardly a brilliant analyst, persons seeing Jerry Rice on their television set rarely have the mental image of the HOF wide receiver photographing his penis in a TGIF men’s room. They also have few memories of Rice screaming and hollering at Herbert Kornfeld’s inspiration. In short, no one will remember Jerry Rice as a great broadcaster. But there’s relatively little ill-will towards, him, either. He’s considered likeable. As opposed to, y’know, repellent.
Do I have any proof that Jerry Rice doesn’t possess something deeply disturbing on his laptop or cell phone? None whatsoever, but as long as he’s gracious enough not to share it with the rest of the world, and refrains from the borderline psychotic expressions of outrage that have typified Salisbury’s post-ESPN career, it’s really of no consequence. I realize that Pearlman was trying to do Salisbury a favor, but I were a prospective employer, I’d be even less likely to give him a job after this, let alone sit in the same room with him.