I have been flooded today with emails telling me I’m a bad guy. Some of the emails are unprintable, although I’m too old to blush at them. Readers are outraged because I wrote critically of Jim Harbaugh — in my opinion, not all that critically.
So, am I rude to the Niners? In a way, yes and in a way, no.
I always try to be polite in my tone when I am with Harbaugh or any sports figure I cover. I appreciate when they are polite in return. Some are. Some aren’t. Harbaugh is not a polite man. If you had to cover him, you would know that.
I am not necessarily polite in what I write, although I try not to be impolite. I tell the truth as I understand it — i.e. Harbaugh is a heck of a coach who did not act well after getting eliminated from the playoffs.
As a journalist I try to tell the truth and I try to write vividly — I love writing vividly and with a voice — and sometimes that upsets sports figures. It is not my job to worry about their feelings, to pull punches because of what they may feel. When Harbaugh was rude and evasive on Monday I had no obligation to make excuses for him. I considered it fair game to write what I had experienced.
Fans tend to side with coaches and athletes over journalists. Fans like to be on the side of authority — the team and the organization. Journalists are there to ask questions of authority. Political journalists try to keep government and police on the up and up. What I do is a minor version of that. In some ways, journalists are outsiders. I like being an outsider.
I admire what Harbaugh has done. He is not my friend. Aside from football we would have no common ground, nothing to talk about. I am interested in him as a character because he is fascinating. He is a recurring character in my writing. I am thankful for him. He makes my writing better and he got the Niners into the playoffs, and that gave me great stuff to write about.
I wish fans as a group would be more independent, more independent in their thinking. I wish they would not see coaches as gods, wish they could see their flaws and still appreciate what they do and who they are. I wish fans — not all fans, of course — were more independent.