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Houston Chronicle Columnist Richard Justice Unfairly Attacks Alex Gibbs...and Then Me?

Aug 29, 2008 – 3:35 PM
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Stephanie Stradley

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If you are interested in sportswriters riled up at bloggers, media ax-grinding, blog etiquette relating to altering blogs and blog comments, really ridiculous things about NFL coaches who yell, and/or the Texans running game, read on. Apologies if parts of it read like someone recounting their latest golf game, hole-by-hole, but none of this makes any lick of sense unless you have a bit of context.

Even with the context, I still find it baffling.

The other day, Richard Justice, columnist for the Houston Chronicle, wrote a negative article on the front page of the sports section about Houston Texans offensive line guru Alex Gibbs . He said in part:
The Texans began this summer hoping to be a run-first team. They were universally praised for the hiring of O-line coach Alex Gibbs, a rooster of a man whose idea of leadership seems to be running around screaming at and insulting players. He has spent much of his adult life in the NFL, but may not be sharpest knife in the drawer.

If he was as smart as people make him out to be, he'd know that players tune out screaming coaches about 12 seconds into their second tantrum. Are you listening, Gary Kubiak? Screaming at your quarterbacks isn't a smart idea, either.
Ouch. I found the article extremely peculiar given all the positive things being said about Gibbs by offensive linemen for the Texans. And well, it is the preseason. Why is Justice calling out an accomplished coach installing a new blocking system after the third preseason game ... because Gibbs is one of many NFL coaches who yell?

Other parts of the article were strange too. Though I also share concerns about the Texans running game, with each preseason game up to that point, the running back yards-per-carry improved, including a reasonable 4.3 ypc in the third preseason game against Dallas.

I know. You probably don't care about that part of the story unless you are a Texans fan, a friend or relative of Alex Gibbs, think preseason stats are particularly meaningful to judge coaches, watch for accuracy in sports journalism, or happened to draft rookie Steve Slaton in your fantasy draft.

Since I'm a Texans fan, and one of the things I blog about are the Texans, I figured I'd ask Justice about it.

I asked in a blog comment why Alex Gibbs was singled out for being a yelling coach when there are many yelling coaches in the NFL, including many on the Texans staff not as accomplished as Gibbs. I also commented on some of the things others were discussing.

It was a very straightforward question. My question and his hostile answer no longer exist on his blog because he deleted it and two other comments two days ago. (I know he deleted it because I used to write on the Chron.com website for almost a year and know how the software works.)

If you want to read the full text of the deleted comment, and his response, it can be found at the TexansTalk.com message board.

He didn't answer my question of why he was targeting Gibbs in particular for yelling, responding:
No player likes being yelled at. That's simply ridiculous. Do you really think those were sincere comments? Are you that gullible? ''Sure, coach, I like the way you try to humliate [sic] in front of my teammates. I love it.'' Are you that clueless? Hey, aren't you the person that wrote that I'm unprofessional then admitted you didn't know the standards of professionalism in my business? If it's not you, my apologies. If it is you, in the words of the immortal George Bamberger...--Richard
Huh? In response to a legitimate question, he decides to make it about me. So I decided to patiently and reasonably respond to his outburst. Because I really wanted an answer to the question. The comment was published, and then later deleted but if you have any interest in it, you can find it preserved here.

Eventually, his other blog commenters pressed him to actually answer my original question. Do the players truly have a problem with Gibbs? The answer he eventually gives is no, they don't have an issue with him. But finally, Justice admitted in his comments what this article was about:
It's simple. Good coaches don't scream. Period. End of story. There are exception [sic] to ever [sic] definitive statement, but good coaches simply don't constantly scream at players. As for Alex Gibbs, he's involved in a team sport, but he loves separating himself from the group. Rules that apply to other coaches--for instance, taking [sic] to the media--don't apply to him. This isn't about me, either. I could care less whether he talks to me. If he does, though, I want to ask if he remembers a meeting we had in South Florida about 12 years ago. I was carrying the water for NFL assistant coaches that were pushing the league for better benefits. He wouldn't speak to me on behalf of his peers that were making far less money than him. That incident spoke volumes about him. He's about Alex Gibbs. It's not a big deal because he probably won't be around long. He has retired three or four times in recent years. If Ahman Green doesn't have another good season left in him, no one should be surprised if Alex Gibbs takes it to the house again.
Double huh? So at first he suggests I'm gullible and clueless for believing statements from the offensive linemen and other players about the teaching Gibbs is doing, but then he makes a blanket statement that good coaches don't scream? The Texans know Gibbs is a short-timer anyway due to his age, so I am guessing Ahman Green's health status will have nothing to do with his retirement plans.

He catches so much grief for this from other commenters, that he later writes a followup blog post that finally makes it clear that the offensive linemen for the Texans do not dislike Gibbs. And he attempts to make the case that great coaches aren't screamers so therefore, I guess, he was right to question Gibbs screaming?

Unsurprisingly, many of the commenters mock this point of view, and Justice finally summarizes his thesis:
I don't like Alex Gibbs. I think he's part of a team sport, but tries very hard not to be part of the team. He has his own set of rules apart from the team. I think he has been a great NFL coach. Maybe the game has passed him by. At this point, he hasn't made the Texans' running game better. If this continues, look for him to retire for the third or fourth time. Need further clarification?--Richard
It's about at this point, he starts referring to me in that post as "that Stephanie woman" who riled him up (since deleted though you can find commenter references to it unless those are deleted too). I completely believe in the concept that you can disagree with someone without being disagreeable so I'm not sure what "riled" him.

Then this inexplicable exchange happens between a commenter and Justice (still preserved on the blog, at least for now):
Brandon: Do you know if Alex Gibbs builds relationships with his players? You don't know that. Some of the greatest coaches of all-time yelled at their players. Some players need that to get them going and that's the job of the coaches to get the best out of their players. Your wrong about this. Just because he didn't give you an interview doesn't give you the right to dog the guy. I think you owe Stephanie an apology too.

RJ: I don't know what Stephanie's real name is, but she creeps me out. She writes a little too often, wants to discuss and debate. She has her own blog, so why is she so interested in mine? Ask yourself that question. Maybe I've watched Fatal Attraction too many times. If something happens to one of my rabbits, she's going to be in big trouble.--Richard
An extremely inappropriate and strange comment on a number of levels.

I signed each of my comments with my full name and a link to my FanHouse blog. I used to write a popular Texans fanblog at the paper that I know he read. At the time he wrote his Fatal Attraction comment, I had written exactly three blog comments on two blog posts and have rarely ever commented on his blog. After this, he deletes my three blog comments and refuses to publish my objection to his inappropriate comment.

And of course, I guess he thinks it is clever to marginalize the logical comments of a female sports blogger by equating it with a shrieking stalking Glenn Close rabbit boiler.

Last night, after I attended the Bucs-Texans preseason game, I had a fan come up to me and say that Richard Justice was saying similar Fatal Attraction-type comments about me on his radio show. What?

You know, as a sports blogger, I'm fairly accustomed to people writing impolite, angry personal attacks in my comments. You write enough, that happens. And a few of those people say tired things like "go in the kitchen and bake me muffins." Not terribly original, though I will admit to baking quite tasty muffins, but not, of course, for rude people.

Though I pretty much anticipate such personal attacks from anonymous blog commenters, I should expect more from a columnist that works for the only major newspaper in the fourth largest city in America. A newspaper, in fact, that I've subscribed to as long as I can remember and a place where I blogged for free until my hobby felt like work.

As someone who has blogged for them, I know how much time it can take on that blog platform to have to screen each comment individually to make sure that the commenters aren't being vulgar or profane. And I am certain they don't get paid enough for the blogging portion of their work to be worth it. But if you are going to be a journalist and blogger, you probably shouldn't delete already published posts just because you disagree with them, leaving a trail of confused comments and snide remarks.

And maybe it isn't terribly professional to respond to legitimate questions about an article by using the platform of your newspaper blog and radio show to personally attack a person. If you disagree with what someone writes, you should attack their arguments, not them personally. Unless, I guess, you are unable to refute what they are saying.

Some people might suggest that he was just making an ill-advised, not terribly funny joke. However, I can't find it funny because I've received angry emails from him in the past. He didn't like my media criticism of things that he wrote. I'm not going to share those emails without his permission, but I will say that last year I tried to make peace with him, and he eventually invited me to comment on his blog.

I'm guessing he was unhappy specifically with this Chron.com FanBlog post I wrote during Texans DE Mario Williams' rookie year in 2006. (The blog no longer has my byline on it because of software reasons, but you can still see my name at the end of it). I still believe that it was fair media criticism, and from his email to me, I thought he was fine with me leaving comments in his blog. I guess not.

I can't imagine that many people like their work criticized, but if you are writing opinions for the world at large to read, you should expect that. And perhaps embrace that if you are interested in learning others' points of view.

For some people, having a columnist trashing them on their blog and radio show would be a badge of honor of sorts. For me, I want no part of that. I've tried to have a positive reputation in the online community , with local and national media sources, and with the Texans and their fanbase. I'm a wife, mom, attorney, blogger and sports fan, and I'm not terribly keen at having a nationally known-columnist use his blog and his radio show to suggest that I'm some sort of stalker.

I didn't want to write about this at all but because people are asking me about it, I decided to share things as I saw them and let you draw your own conclusions in the light of day. I find it sad and disappointing.

I just had a football question.
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