Feinstein: Criticizing Someone Doesn't Mean I Hate Them

John Feinstein sometimes criticizes people he likes and praises people he dislikes. Why? Because that's his job.

John Feinstein
October 10, 2018 - 1:37 pm

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The other day I wrote a CBS Sports Minute critical of Jerry Jones after Jones publicly criticized Coach Jason Garrett for punting from the Houston Texans 42-yard line in overtime on Sunday night.
I made the point that Garrett’s decision—which ultimately led to the Texans’ game-winning field goal—WAS questionable, but no coach needs his owner second-guessing him minutes after a tough loss.
There are enough fans and media around to do that.
Not long after the commentary aired I got a tweet from someone which began with, “I know you hate Jerry Jones…”
I don’t hate Jerry Jones. I also don’t hate Tiger Woods. But every time I write anything critical about Woods, I get notes from people telling me they KNOW I hate Woods or I’m angry with him because he wouldn’t do a book with me or I have no right to criticize him because he made me rich.
For the record: I don’t hate Tiger Woods at all and I never asked him to do a book with me. “A Good Walk Spoiled” became a No. 1 bestseller before Woods turned pro. His name appears in the book once. If anyone made me "rich," it was Bob Knight. (Divorce made me considerably LESS rich).
And yet, I’ve often criticized Knight when he’s behaved badly or—more often—self-destructively because (wait for it) THAT’S MY JOB.
I don’t know Jerry Jones at all. What I do know is he’s a remarkable businessman with an out-of-control ego that manifests in many of the things he says publicly.
I DO know Tiger Woods—though not well, anyone in the media who say they know him well is either lying or stupid—and I think he’s very bright and very selfish; the latter a trait his father instilled in him at a young age.
I know Bob Knight well—or at least I did, once upon a time. And I do feel a debt to him, always will, because the access he gave me to his Indiana basketball team 33 (gasp!) years ago allowed me to write “A Season on the Brink,” and that book’s success is a key reason why I’ve been able to write 39 books since then.
Do I think I would have written books if I hadn’t written “A Season on the Brink?” Yes. But that book launched me in a way I never dreamed it would.
That, though, is not the point. Many people scream that I’m supposed to be “objective.”
No, I’m not.
To begin with, no one is objective. Everyone has biases. We are all supposed to be FAIR and I strive to be that, whether that means criticizing someone I like or praising someone I don’t like.
Example: I like Phil Mickelson. He has gone out of his way to cooperate with me on several of my golf books, and he’s always fun to talk to in the locker room or on the range because he’s smart and opinionated. I’ve even protected him on occasion when he’s said something to me that would get him into trouble if I printed it and did NOT put it off the record.
I think, as a reporter, you owe something to your sources—up to a point. It was never anything important, just the kind of stuff that would have stirred controversy.
But when Mickelson complained last week about the golf course setup for the recent Ryder Cup, claiming that the rough was “virtually unplayable” and that fairways were unfairly narrow, I had to take him to task.
He had played poorly and now he was whining, trying to shift blame. He had done the same thing four years earlier when he claimed that Tom Watson (someone else I like) hadn’t given the players enough input and THAT was why the U.S. had gotten waxed at Gleneagles.
The U.S. lost at Gleneagles for the same reason it lost in Paris—Europe played better. And, yes, the fairways were narrow and the rough was high.
Let me quote a Ryder Cupper on that subject: “It’s called home-course advantage.”
The Ryder Cupper in question?—Phil Mickelson talking about the wide fairways, low rough and easy pin positions at Hazeltine two years ago. “We putt better than they do,” he continued. “So why shouldn’t we set the golf course up to give ourselves lots of birdie chances?”
That conversation took place during my research for “The First Major,” the book I wrote about the 2016 Ryder Cup. Mickelson gave me all the time I could have asked for researching that book. But I had an obligation to point out that quote when he complained about the set-up in Europe.
I also like Patrick Reed—which may make me unique among those who cover golf. Several years ago, after he’d won three tournaments in seven months and said he thought he was one of the top-five players in the world (he was ranked No. 21 officially at the time), a number of my colleagues thought him arrogant and made fun of the comment every time he played poorly.
I defended him. To begin with, I thought he was right—based on his play at that time. Plus, I’d much rather deal with a golfer who says that as opposed to guys who just thank their sponsors, God and the PGA Tour.
Reed also cooperated with me on "The First Major." In fact, when the people who put out "The Masters Journal" asked him who he wanted to write the champions piece for 2019, he asked for me.
But when Reed claimed that Jim Furyk had "blind-sided" him by pairing him with Tiger Woods and not Jordan Spieth, who had been his four-ball and foursomes partner in both 2014 and 2016, I had to defend Furyk. Spieth wanted to play with his pal Justin Thomas. Furyk was hoping that Reed’s intense approach to Ryder Cup would energize Woods.
He went 1-for-2. Thomas and Spieth were an excellent team, going 3-1. Reed and Woods were 0-2. Reed was wrong—in my opinion—to criticize his captain for trying to come up with the best possible teams.
Does criticizing Mickelson and Reed mean I’ve stopped liking them? No.
On the first day of the U.S. Open this year, Rory McIlroy played horribly, shooting 80. Woods was almost as bad, shooting 78. McIlroy turned down a request to meet with the media; Woods came and talked. The next day, after comfortably missing the cut, Woods talked again—didn’t snap at anyone, even laughed a couple of times.
I pointed out that Woods had talked both days and that McIlroy (and Mickelson) had passed on Thursday.
Anyone who knows me even a little knows there is no one in sports I like more than McIlroy. So what happened? Did I suddenly not like McIlroy that day? Did I decided to forgive Woods for refusing to do the non-existent book people bring up?
No. I was being fair, which I always try to be.
There’s one other thing: all public figures have agents, marketing people, sponsors and PR people who are paid to let the public know everything good about them; every good deed they ever commit.
My job is not to join that parade but to point out both the good and the bad. Ohio State fans no doubt think I hate Urban Meyer. Again, I don’t know him to love, like, dislike or hate him. I just know he has lied repeatedly during the Zach Smith debacle and it’s my job to point that out.
Some people here in Washington like to say that I hate (that word again) the local teams here. I don’t love or hate any of them.
I respect the Capitals and was always a fan both personally and professionally of their former general manager George McPhee and was happy for their fan base when they finally
won the Stanley Cup last spring.
I don’t have any real feelings about the Wizards other than the fact that I wish John Wall would talk less about how good he is and make more shots when it matters. I was roundly attacked two years ago when Wall DID make a shot to win Game 6 of a playoff series against the Celtics and jumped on the scorer’s table to preen.
You don’t do that, I said, until the series is over. The Celtics won game 7—easily.
I think Mike Rizzo is an excellent general manager, but I don’t believe, like some of my colleagues, that Abner Doubleday consulted with him while inventing the game.
Finally, there’s Dan Snyder. I do NOT like him; I think he’s a bad person and I’ve had enough interactions with him to speak firsthand. That said, when his team traded for Alex Smith this past winter, I wrote a column saying it was a smart move.

Was I biased because I’d worked with Smith during the 2017 season for my book on NFL quarterbacks that comes out next month?
Probably. But I also knew Smith was a young 33—I watched every snap he took last season—and would be a perfect fit as the team’s leader.
It didn’t make me happy that Snyder’s team was getting a player I liked so much. But it was a smart move and I said so even though I think Snyder is a genuinely bad guy.
Why? Because that’s my job.


John Feinstein’s latest book is, “The Prodigy,” a novel set at the Masters about a 17-year-old phenom who is being pulled in all directions by the people around him while he tries to win the tournament. His most recent non-fiction book, “The First Major—The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup,”—spent five months on The New York Times bestseller list. His new book, “Quarterback,” will be published in November.