Updated: Dec 20, 2022
Photo Credit: Erik Drost, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
I feel bad for Giovani Bernard.
I get it: his role in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers botched fake punt in the third quarter of Sunday’s game directly led to the Cincinnati Bengals scoring points. But he was a great player for the Bengals in his heyday, and I can’t forget that so easily.
The way he was treated in the locker room by reporters was uncalled for. Yes, he made a bad play, but how is asking him, “What have you done for us all year to talk to you?” a reasonable response to someone wondering why all these reporters have come out of the woodwork for the first time all year to hound him with questions. Props to Gio - he handled it like a true professional - but unfortunately the same cannot be said about the reporters.
For those who aren’t aware or need a refresher, Bernard was a running back with the Bengals from 2013-2020. Though he was never the featured running back, Bernard was widely considered one of the premier receiving backs in the NFL and his ability in the run game was severely underrated. While he may have been second on the Bengals running back depth chart for most of his career, he was behind nobody when it came to resonating with the Cincinnati fan base.
A son of Haitian immigrants, Bernard spent much of his career trying to give back. He founded a school in Haiti, Le Jardin Vert de Josette School - named for his deceased mother Josette, who passed away when Gio was seven. And he was nominated for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. In short, Gio is the man.
That’s why it’s so hard to understand what those reporters were thinking when they harassed him during post-game interviews.
Let’s lay out a few facts first: one, reporters are entitled to ask players questions. It’s their job. They get paid to write stories, and it’s hard to write stories when you don’t have any information. Two, players are contractually obligated to answer questions after games - good performance or bad. Three, Giovanni Bernard is a human being who deserves respect.
The first two are pretty specific to NFL reporting. The third is universally understood. The reporters, however, failed in this respect.
To be fair, it’s never going to be easy to ask a player about a bad play or a miserable game. This is a ridiculous example, but could you imagine walking up to a doctor ten minutes after someone passed away in the ICU and asking, “Was there a miscommunication in surgery?”
That’s kinda the point, though. Football is not surgery. It’s not that serious. You don’t have to get every answer to every question. You’ll live. Those reporters, though…they treated Gio’s botched fake punt like the fate of the universe rested on whether everyone was on the same page or not.
Gio isn’t completely faultless, of course. Based on the video that informs this entire discussion, it’s pretty clear Bernard was doing his best to get out of the locker room before reporters have their opportunity to swoop in on him. Technically, that’s against the rule. But technically, who gives a shit?
ESPN reporter Jenna Laine, who recorded and released the footage of the interaction between reporters and Bernard in Tampa’s locker room, attempted to justify their behavior by saying in a much-disparaged tweet, “As reporters, it’s our job to seek clarity on what happened, especially on the most pivotal play of the game.”
That’s a stretch. When Bernard fumbled the fake punt, there was no guarantee they were going to convert the fourth down. Besides, the Buccaneers were up by fourteen at that point. Even after allowing the Bengals to recover the ball well inside Buccaneers territory, the defense held the Bengals to a field goal. Once the dust had settled on the supposed “most pivotal play of the game,” the Buccaneers still held a two-score lead.
I can think of at least four different plays that were more pivotal than Bernard’s play. What about the horrendous interception Tom Brady threw on their next drive that led to a Bengals touchdown? Or Brady’s fumble on the next drive that led to another Bengals touchdown? Or Brady’s fumble on the next drive that led to a Bengals touchdown. Or another Brady interception on the next drive. For those not counting, that’s four straight possessions with a turnover directly attributed to the Buccaneers most important player - and those were, somehow, not pivotal?
Even worse was Lavonte David’s fourth down holding penalty that wiped out a 23-yard sack in the third quarter. That wasn’t a typo - TWENTY-THREE YARDS. The Buccaneers would have taken over from around midfield - still holding a two-score lead, mind you - with all the momentum in the world. Instead, the Bengals would score a touchdown four plays later to pull within one score.
The reporters were, in all likelihood, upset with the entire Buccaneers roster. But picking on Tom Brady is off-limits. It's much easier to pick on a fourth-string running back who botched a special teams play.
Look, I get it. You get it. We all get it. Reporters have a job to do. Answering questions is part of the job description for NFL players. But there’s a line between doing your job and being shitty. And if being shitty is doing the job, then you’re doing a shitty job.