Grit, Grammar And Road-Grading: A Conversation With PFT Commenter

A frank conversation and in-depth appreciation of the dumbest, greatest voice in the NFL discourse.
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No one in the NFL discourse, and maybe no one anywhere, is dumber than PFT Commenter. He is the most ill-informed, unreflective, backwards, craven, and vociferous voice in a conversation that offers plenty of competition. The difference -- and what makes the PFT Commenter character such an astounding achievement -- is that PFT Commenter is that dumb on purpose.

And he never, ever takes a play -- or take -- off. It’s funny, and a reliably vicious satire of the grunty goofiness of NFL media, but perhaps equally impressive is that it just never stops. The mind reels at the sheer endurance required to maintain this posture, both in the face of open contempt from the likes of Pete Prisco and Darren Rovell and because of the sheer effort required to be this wrong. It’s hard to think of an online performance artist that works harder, and impossible to think of one that loves Danny Woodhead more.

PFT Commenter joined me to discuss his place in the NFL media landscape and how his particular voice serves to help a branch of sports media much in need of both self-awareness and a laugh. PFT Commenter was also interviewed at Heading for the Exits last year, so this interview catches him in the midst of what may prove to be his most prolific NFL season to date.

JL: In your run-ins with various media personalities and your own coverage of the NFL, you’ve played it close to the vest. How does it feel to be the subject of an interview yourself?

PFTC: I try not to give these other righters alot of bulletin board material. I operate under a football mentalty and focus on doing my job. While there busy speaking to Columbias “journalism” school teaching the students how to not take there jobs, the last thing they want to see is a aggressive student of oldschool NFL football coming at them at padlevel. Im on record that Im a open book, I have nothing to hide.

A reader unfamiliar with PFTC’s prose will find much to chide in just these three sentences. Yet, none can argue that sense or legibility suffer, and indeed, PFTC’s deliberate butchering of English only serves to enrich his special kind of NFL coverage. To be sure, PFTC’s confrontations with those audacious enough to correct his grammar can lead to disorienting results:

This sort of here-then-there stichomythia is enough to make heads spin, but it’s another example of just how much work is involved, here. It’s one thing to superheat these football takes to PFTC temperatures, and another to keep coming up with new and ever more elaborate offenses against grammar.

Here we run up against the challenge of describing just what it s that PFTC does. Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley, in his admiring piece on PFTC, described him as “a parodic manifestation of the worst impulses of hype and humanity that surround the National Football League … [h]is concerns are the concerns of America’s dumb, horrifying id.” This is true enough, in the sense that the temperature of a PFTC take will generally match those found in the actual comments at Pro Football Talk.

But while there’s a lot to admire in PFTC’s channeling of the NFL’s knee-jerk belief set on concussion anxieties, openly gay players, draconian marijuana policies, or domestic violence, the mimesis is maybe more the thing. Because PFTC identifies and emulates the league’s loudest and best-connected fools, he’s able to better undermine the league’s resident apologists and party-liners. To see their enabling argle-bargle stripped down and de-grammaticized into its idiot essence is to see how willfully ignorant, aggressively bigoted, and proudly dumb the NFL’s establishment media is at its core.

This is why PFTC is such a devastatingly effective double agent. He out-stupids the stupids.

JL: On the topic of media personalities, what NFL journalists do you consider positive or trustworthy voices in pro-football coverage? Who would be on your Mount Rushmore of NFL journos?

PFTC: Im a fan of the guys with the strongest takes. Pete PRisco from CBS is a good exsample given how he doesn’t really pull any punches or admit hes wrong. You get one chink in youre armor and next thing you know the vultures are circling. Petes the short stocky weirdo who probably goes skinny dipping so hes Teddy Rosevelt. Mike Florio of ProfootballTalk is definitely up there. Some of his strongest takes include the time he reported Terry Bradshaw died, and also when he told Charles Tillmen that he should skip the birth of his son for a game. The irony is a guy like Tillmen probly didn’t even know hhe was about to be a Dad again and Florio shamed him into attending the birth in a bit of reverse psycholgy. I love Nolan Nawrockis work doing draft scout reports that focus on weather the player has any kids out of wedlock or if there parents got divorced. The forth positon on Mt Rushmore comes down to Joe Theismen or Merril Hoge but Im going with Merril. This is a guy whose career was ended by essentially not having a tough enough brain. But he still thinks the NFL is doing a great job with concussons. Makes you think whats got more knots, his tie are his frontal lobe, no offense.

This sort of backhanded praise typifies much of PFTC’s interactions with the media establishment: a doublespeak that exaggerates the more tone-deaf corners of NFL journalism. Yet, it would be a disservice to label PFTC’s persona a caricature, since caricatures tend towards the toothless, buffoonish, and sterile.

PFTC instead performs real criticism in extreme negative; laudation made excoriation. As Mathis-Lilley points out at Slate, PFT Commenter plays a Stephen Colbert-esque role, insofar as he uses the rhetoric, histrionics, and trenchant conservatism of league followers to expose and abuse the very toxins they trumpet. His collisions with Pete Prisco are especially colorful, since Prisco at times betrays a slim whit of self-awareness:

One can almost hear Prisco chuckling to himself as he fired that off, and to be sure, it’s that very egoism that draws PFTC into Prisco’s orbit. Fucking hysterical, Pete.

In a now legendary turn of events, PFTC’s brush with Darren Rovell last spring elicited a moment of crowd-sourced humor when reader Neill Mohammed offered up a cringer at the sportsbizreporter’s expense, to which Darren replied:

Funny! And perfectly calibrated to lampoon Rovell’s vapid posthumanism. What we witnessed in April, though, was the attractive populism PFTC wears so well, a populism that he welcomes and encourages through generous re-sharing of readers’ own contributions.

He wants to know how “U are getting ready for Sunday’s NFL games,” however violently drunk that preparation might be. His voice pours through that of his fans, who revel in the opportunity to lambaste what they, too, see as the risible aspects of football fandom. PFTC is a man of the people, on both sides of the aisle; he satirizes everyone. This is no small achievement.

JL: How did you feel when you were credited as a source on none other than Pro Football Talk? Was it similar to Mark Wahlberg earning a roster spot with the Eagles in Invincible?

PFTC: It was a mix bag. On one hand Im about the name on the top of the website, not the name on the just under the top of the website. Ive had scoops stole from me by the lamestream media like when I invented RG0-3 as a nick name and the Washington Post ran it front page, so its kind’ve nice to get a silent firm handshake from a repscted site like PFT. One’ve these days thell let me write a colum for them and then Ill feel like Im part’ve the team and not just some equipment manager with low blood pressure and mouth acne.

This story was truly a through-the-looking-glass moment, not least because Pro Football Talk offered a hat-tip to their most incisive critic for a perfectly PFTC-esque story. As with the Terry Bradshaw scoop, the Washington Post’s (probably) unintentional borrowing from PFTC demonstrated just how close his brand of strident idiocy is to the NFL mainstream.

JL: You’ve spent a lot of time brushing shoulders with commenters on NFL blogs. Are sports blog comment sections a positive contribution to sports media? What have you learned about NFL coverage and fandom in your time among PFT readers and commenters?

PFTC: I think your often times going to find the most strongest takes in the comment secton. The thumbsup is a more powerful motivater then a paycheck IMO. You should read a book called “Drive” were it talks about intrensic motivation. Giving your commenters the freedom to invent there own takes will produce great results like this Jimmy Martinez post about the Dallas cowboys which is wildly regarded as the best internet comment of all time.

The modern sport’s fans are more educated then ever on what makes a strong take. One main reason why were living in the golden age of takes is that internet commenters use to actualy play the sports were covering in the comment sections unlike the lamestream writers who all hate your team and were to busy beating of to the highschool yearbook pictures they were editing to ever under stand the discipline necessary to let youre coach physicaly abuse you without quitting the team.

It’s not difficult to imagine PFT Commenter standing agog at Jimmy Martinez’ Facebook rant, not least because Martinez’ erstwhile career seems so completely forgettable. In truth, with a small peppering of self-awareness, Jimmy Martinez could be PFT Commenter.

Like Martinez, PFTC’s playing days often serves as usable fodder when there are points to be made, even if—or maybe because—neither was any good at football. To be sure, arguments from experience typify much of Pro Football Talk’s comments, which blissfully try to impress their singular worldview on the shared experience of us all. Commenter joeflaccoallday, for instance, epitomizes modern sports fans’ education and devout homerism with a terse apologia for Ray Rice:

JL: What are the necessary traits to have for success as an NFL coach? Which coaches in the league demonstrate the most important characteristics as leaders of men in American football?

PFTC: IMO Greg Schiano was a true road grader head coach. A stat that is probly true is that 90% of NFL players dont have fathers. They need a disiplinarian to look up to and Schiano was that man. Sometimes the best thing that can happen in a young mans life is to get cut and loose the only job in the world that hes skilled to do and Greg never shyed a way from that.

Schiano’s “old school football” mentality feeds PFTC’s constant howling over the hurt/injured distinction, and in so doing taps his profound distrust of medical experts, especially in regards to concussions and CTE. As he told Slate last month, “You got to jog it off if your brains nicked, not lock yourself in a planetarium with a icepack and a “doctors” note. The jurys still very much out as to weather or not concussons even exist, and until its proven Im going to err on the side of caution instead of going around telling people theyve got CTE.”

JL: You’re quite vocal in your criticism of the proliferation of reverse racism, both in pro football and 21st-century America. How, in your opinion, can we stem the tide of reverse racism in the U.S.? Is pro football a viable forum in which to speak about and push back against it?

PFTC: Last time I checked the President was black,, so basic logic tells us that no one else can be considerd racist any more.  Its one of those cause and affect type deals. We were racist because our leader wasnt black. Youd have to have youre head stuck in the sand to not realize that the NFL is going through a time of reverse racism. Theres at least a couple Black head coaches and all our good White players are being ushered into positons like Fullback and General Manager. The Rooney Rule says that any NFL team with a headcoach vacantsy HAS to interview at leased one minority for the position. But during years when a Presidents black we need to implement a reverse Rooney Rule or “Romney Rule” where teams MUST give white defense of backs the opportunity to make the 53 man roster because fairs fair.

Traditionalist as he is about football as it is played, PFTC is even more attuned to off-the-field issues. He has been especially active in his activism against what he perceives to be the scourge of reverse racism, with his work ranging from dubbing July White History Month to defending the many white players he perceives as having received short shrift from the suffocatingly PC NFL.

JL: Johnny Manziel has garnered much attention this offseason. Do you have any predictions for him this coming fall? What are your long-term feelings for how his career will turn out?

PFTC: I think this is just a classic case of a nice young man being victimized by the cell-phone camera industrial complex. If you think the worse thing Joe Namath was doing with $20 is sticking them up his own orifices in public restrooms well then Im not sure I can help you.

Lets guess one thing straight about Johnny. He seems to come from a good hardworking bluecollar family. Nucular family. Say what you want about his rampant drug use and drinking but at least hes not out there treating Publix seafood secton like his own personal supermarket sweep for crying out loud. Besides all in dications are that hes really toned it down and hasnt been pictured partying with Justin Bieber and Drake in over a week so I think its about time to lay of the young mans case. Your judged by the company you keep in ths world and who would you rather have your star player hanging out with- a couple musicans, or a team full of NFL players? I rest my case.

Ill put it this way, if Johnny Football can steer clear of the negtive partyboy influence of Lecramp James then I think he will be an hall of famer at least. Johnny plays Football like a jazz solo, its the coaches orders that hes NOT following that make him so great.

Quite a bit to unpack here: perhaps most salient is the whitewashing of Johnny Manziel’s “victimhood” in the face of a technological corporate goon squad (Pete Prisco’s “twitter police”), over and against holding Jameis Winston’s feet to the fire for petty theft. Manziel’s sordid ken passes are entirely forgotten, whereas Lebron James earns strident condemnation for … what, exactly?

These concerns all point back to the work of the Rushmore-inscribed Nolan Nawrocki, whose draft profiles specialize in this sort of offhand/backhand sketchiness. In the lead-up to this year’s draft, Deadspin sought to expose this frisson in rookie reporting through hard statistical analysis with a word calculator that tallied the frequency a given term was applied to black or white prospects. Of special note were the words “upbringing,” “character,” “discipline,” “incident(s),” “issues,” and perhaps most glaringly “however.”

In Nawrocki’s reporting, and PFTC’s refracting of it, a black rookie’s upbringing carries more credential baggage than a white player; his character requires microscopic inspection because of all those damn incidents or issues, in which white players somehow rarely, if ever, find themselves.

All of which is to say: Oh for sure, man. Yet Nawrockian prejudice extends even onto the field of play, where black players are more resistant to, or perhaps slower to accept, coaches’ discipline.

And shit, however? NFL draft journalists dropped this disjunctive on black players five times more often than on white players in twenty-fucking-fourteen. Here, in this whispered hedging-of-bets, lurks the hidden mine of PFTC’s media critique. Where Johnny Manziel’s improvisation and atheleticism earn highest accolades, Robert Griffin III’s “non-traditional quarterbacking” collects outcries of selfishness and bad decision-making. Same brain, same style, same skills, very different result. We are approaching satire so good that it’s difficult to laugh at.

***

PFTC’s well documented adoration of Danny Woodhead provides a good case study of NFL writers’ apposite approaches to black and white players. Take for instance the disparity in the use of “gritty” and “natural.”

When speaking about players’ “grit,” we’re dealing with PFT Commenter’s favorite and most important athletic quality. Yet, grit necessarily precludes any god-given, “natural” talent. Grit is earned through years in the weight room, the video room, refusing various medically necessary treatments or accepting fistfuls of painkillers as needed. It depends on who is doing what.

Where black prospects demonstrate an almost mystical, innate aptitude for sport, white players must labor thrice as hard just to keep up. Within this supposed handicap rests the kernel of PFTC’s Woodhead fascination. PFTC’s Woodhead is a “smalltown worker bee,” who was “gracous enough to let other teams beat [him] and have there shot at the limelight,” while rising through the ranks of D2 Chadron State and the Jets’ practice squad to become a consistently consistent utility player in the pros.

For PFT Commenter, grit is quite literally capital, insofar as his “Gritcoin” cryptocurrency (featuring Mike Alstott’s and Danny Woodhead’s likenesses in turns) rewards readers for their strong takes. He traffics in grit, in every conceivable form, to the extent that the word has weakened in meaning to the point that it now mostly can be used to describe any white football player.

JL: Speaking of drafted rookies, will you weigh in on Michael Sam’s place in NFL locker rooms? What does Michael Sam need to do to succeed at the highest level?

PFTC: I would be fine with having Mike Sam in my lockeroom as long as he didnt make me want to kiss him,, at that point he becomes a distracton and were going to have a problem.

Im on record as not caring that Michael Sams Gay. In fact Ive written at leased 5 columns about how little I care that hes Gay so I defy you to find any one who cares any less then me.

However I think that he still owes my hypothetical son a explanation for why he had to make out with his escort or giglo or boyfriend or whoever that was. If Gay people want everyone to be so tolerent how come they cant tolerate me wanting to kick them of television forever?

PFTC is indeed on record about how little he cares for Michael Sam’s sexual orientation. What he’s laid bare here, however, is perhaps the most convoluted form of homophobia currently passed around as “tolerance” on the internet today.

“Stop talking about this story,” runs the thinking, “it shouldn’t matter.” Yet, such constant and shrieking claims of I DON’T CARE ABOUT MICHAEL SAM BEING GAY have now reached protest-too-much levels of disingenuousness. No one, intentionally or inadvertently, has gotten more to the heart of this particular fatuity than PFTC. “I don’t care about this story” is just a lazily twisted way of saying, “I don’t want to see gay people on my television or in my news—and especially not on the football field.” Those who care the most are those proclaiming, most loudly and proudly, not to care at all.

JL: Finally, what would you say to your critics or those who might disregard your particular stance regarding NFL journalism? Do you think people find your takes too honest, and therefore, too difficult to stomach?

PFTC: First of all I woud tell them that if you cant handle my takes theres the door. I grew up literaly mainlining ESPN2 coverage and sportstalk radio and learned more in those years then any school could of ever taught me. Alot of establishment journlists are afraid of me because they under stand that Im the future of sportsreporting, where the reporting is a sport thats just as big if not bigger then the real sport. If you haven’t been training for that type of competition then your not going to last very long when I wipe the floor with you in a conversation.

I wasnt handed any thing. I got rejecton notice after rejecton notice from Bleacher Report untill I realised they just were too PC to handle my takes on whether or not Chuck Paganos cancer was real or if he was just trying to find a extra edge to motivate his team, it’s a copycat league so Im sure youll see Norv Turner claim to have a ovarian cyst are something to squeeze a few percentage points out of Teddy Bridgewaters completon rate.

Like any good internet rhetorician, PFT Commenter has no time for haters. His blue-collar identity and pad-level approach worship at the altar of sound fundamentals; the language of football mechanics saturates his own writing and journalistic ethos, and it’s a tribute to that lingo’s opacity and goofiness that all these non-sequiturs somehow scan in context.

What we’re left with, then, is the perfect congruence of form and content: didactic misspelling, erratic punctuation, barely veiled racism, not-quite-latent homophobia, conspiratorial anxiety, and arrogant disdain for critical thought. We love Pro Football Talk Commenter for so effortlessly/effortfully embodying everything that we hate about reading about the NFL. It’s complicated, and it’s not. If you don’t like it, there’s the door.


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