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I do not care if Rex Ryan is a foot fetishist.
Let me say that again. I do not care if Rex Ryan is a foot fetishist.
I don't care if he and other consenting adults are into further, more obscure fetishes, for that matter. Particularly not when one of them appears to be his happily willing, legally wedded wife.
"Jeez," he IMed me yesterday. "Have you seen this foot fetish Rex Ryan stuff? it's like something out of a bad movie."
He then filled me in on the basics. "Deadspin got hold of some videos that Ryan shot of his wife showing off her feet and aparently they're doing some sexy talk. I haven't watched them, but the New York Post just published a story where, when Ryan was asked about the videos, he said 'it's a personal matter'."
I'm quoting Shamus rather than the actual stories, because other than a quick Google search to confirm the articles Shamus was speaking of do, in fact, exist, I'm not touching them. Inveterate Jets hater that I am, even for me, this story about Rex Ryan is a step too far.
See, I think covering marital infidelity among people with public lives (see also: Tiger Woods) is ethically tricky to begin with. But while there's room for debate around the newsworthiness of the Tiger Woods story, l'affaire Ryan is gross and irresponsible, in my opinion, much more gross and irresponsible than whatever Rex and his wife were doing.
Like I'm sensing most people might, Shamus disagreed with me. "Well, he should have kept it private. Apparently he and his wife have a profile on some weird site where they're looking for people to join them," he responded.
To which I replied, "presumably, that site requires a username and password." (Making it not technically public information, in my view.)
There are times that I still believe that reporting this kind of highly personal information is warranted, such as, say, a scenario in which someone with power and influence in government has been enacting or championing laws designed to restrict the rights of foot fetishists, when it turns out (surprise!) he himself has been a foot fetishist all along. (Gee, what possible parallel situation could I possibly be thinking of...?)
But I digress. Rex Ryan, obviously, is not a Congressman. He's a football coach.
So this is where Shamus added, "when you're brash and mouthy like [Ryan] is, people like to pile on." But to me, that suggestion is dangerously similar to saying that if you're wearing tight clothes, people tend to sexually assault you. Rex is an asshole, true. but even if he somehow "deserves" to have his private sex life plastered all over, that still doesn't make doing it -- or all the collective tittering over it -- ethical or right.
Here, Shamus also brought up the Favre sexting case. But the Favre thing is different -- in that case there was an alleged victim of harrassment, which is a far cry from what we're talking about with Ryan.
There's also more gray area with Tiger Woods, to get back to the comparison which keeps coming up again and again with regard to the Ryan situation. I never really formally wrote about this, but for the record, I thought reporters camped out on the lawn of a golfer, the better to harass him about his alleged affairs with cocktail waitresses, was as sad a statement about contemporary journalism as I've ever seen in my life. Also, for the record, I hate golf and I have never been an especial fan, or hater, for that matter, of Tiger Woods.
Still, in the Woods case, judging by the now-famous golf-club-sized holes in the rear of his SUV, there was at least an injured party. And there was also plenty more room for debate with Woods when it came to the public interest in the implications the infidelity story held for his carefully cultivated image.
But is there anyone out there really surprised to find out something raunchy about Rex Ryan after his infamous turn on Hard Knocks, a show in which he willingly participated? Does this foot-fetish revelation significantly inform our perception of him as a public figure, or change it substantially? Does it increase or enhance our appreciation of the sphere in which Ryan moves? Is it necessary public information?
My answer to all of those questions is a resounding no.
In the Web 2.0 age, it's easy to forget these things, and I understand the reasons that it's easy to forget them in more ways than I can even explain here. But to me, there are some things that are just not in the public interest, no matter how many page views, eyeballs or listening ears they might garner from an audience of voyeurs and people who want to feel falsely superior for a few seconds. Rex Ryan's consensual marital activities fall squarely into that category, in my opinion.
I guess I'm old-fashioned this way. I still think journalists should ask two questions before they publish -- on what segment of the public does this have a meaningful impact, and of what benefit is it that I bring this information to that public? -- even when they are new media journalists reporting on sports, a field in which the lines between covering athletes and writing celebrity gossip columns have admittedly become very blurred.
"That's not the way the world is heading, unfortunately," was how Shamus summed things up.
And that's true, I told him. But that doesn't mean I always have to be on board with it.