Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Criticizing Matthew Berry

By Rick Morris

Very recently, a trusted friend, one who deals with members of the sports media on a regular basis, said something to me about the tone of some FDH criticism of somebody we have written a fair amount about, ESPN fantasy boss Matthew Berry. My immediate reaction was incredulous disbelief, as I knew for a fact that everything I had ever written was substantively based and did not cross any personal lines. Knowing that I am not the only person to have written about Berry, though, I searched our archives ... and found myself at a place I never like to be: having to say "touche."

Let me be very clear on this. The FantasyDrafthelp.com side of FDH Enterprises, LLC has taken issue with Mr. Berry on numerous occasions for what we believe to be impeccable reasons. We place value at the very core of everything we advocate and we are critical, I believe appropriately so, when his advice does not place a premium on that (i.e. his past advocacy of two running backs in the first two rounds of a football draft no matter what and his notion of where certain players should be drafted in contravention of their market value). Furthermore, we see him as frequently delivering "one size fits all" advice and that pretty much makes our teeth grind when we see that. Fantasy games are all about exploiting certain situations and advice to "never draft So-and-So" -- when people take advice literally, as I have found out through our website and webcasts repeatedly -- is not so good. Additionally, he takes the concepts of "matchups" to a point where he advocates being open to benching untouchable players -- such as the infamous example last year when he said that Adrian Peterson should sit against San Diego and then AP carved them up for the single-game rushing record. Matt Berry has, as I have often said, the greatest megaphone in our industry. With that comes a certain responsibility, not merely for his own credibility, but for all of the rest of us because he does represent us -- this is the case even though he did not ask for the responsibility and even though all of us in this industry wish to be judged on our own merits and not on what "the ESPN guy" said. It is for that reason that we critique him and others with large megaphones, so that we may set the record straight when we feel it is warranted and when folks may be led astray by something we find inaccurate.

I have always taken great pains to do that a certain way, but I feel upon rereading some of our content that that is not good enough and that I am shirking my moral responsibility if I hide behind the notion of "at least I never said it." As Managing Partner of FDH, I review everything that we publish and I am responsible for approving everything. I let some material go by in the notion that it would be taken as hyperbole and in a fun trash-talking spirit. That was a mistake, one that is mine alone. Nobody else deserves any criticism whatsoever. I love the passionate spirit of everyone who writes here and I hope that everyone involved never changes how they write. It's up to me, though, to reign that in if it crosses a line. I can say with certitude that nothing was ever written to intentionally hurt somebody's feelings, we're all good people here, but anything along the lines of "what kind of jerk would give advice like that" is something that I have to admit I would fail to take as merely passionate hyperbole. May I say also that the criticisms that others have made of Mr. Berry are every bit as solid as I have found my own to be and I regret that the heat they generated may have kept some from perceiving the light they were trying to shed. In other words, how we said some things undermined the strong effectiveness that we had on the merits.

Now, the irony is that I have personally written far harsher things about some politicians than anything that was written about Matt Berry and I stand behind them. Frankly, what Berry does, and what our fantasy sports division does, is not a life-and-death issue. I believe that as citizens, we are entitled, nay obligated, to speak with outrage when harm is being perpetrated on us by politicians and any of their allies in any way. No piece of fantasy sports advice dished out rises anywhere near that level of seriousness.

So in pursuit of doing the right thing as my parents raised me, this column ends in a pretty uncomfortable way for me. I hope that my FDH colleagues don't feel that I'm going soft or renouncing legitimate fact-based criticisms of Matthew Berry's content. I'm not doing either and I trust they will see that; along those lines, though, I will try to review his work more often so that I can give credit for where I strongly agree and not just respond every time I see something I find outrageous. And I really hate giving any of our detractors something to smile about, so being publicly contrite just grinds on me. But my judgment about the wording of some of the evaluations of Berry was wrong, and, I am given to understand, may have led to hurt feelings. For this, I apologize. Lesson learned.

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