By now, many of you have heard about the explanation from ESPN’s Tom Jackson in defending his prediction that the Patriots would beat the Jets on Sunday.
For those of you who haven’t, here’s the background.
Jackson picked the Pats to win the game. After the Jets won, linebacker Bart Scott came unhinged during an interview with ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio, specifically calling out Jackson and ESPN’s Keyshawn Johnson for predicting that the Jets would lose. (UPDATE: Apparently, Keyshawn picked the Jets. We thought Bart was being sarcastic when he thanked Keyshawn for “having our backs.”)
Jackson explained his decision as a social experiment or sorts.
“I played a bit of a psychological game with the Jets,” Jackson said, via Yahoo! Sports. “It’s something that I need to explain. I thought that more important to the Jets than hearing another score of ’24-21, they have a chance to win,’ was that it was important that they have in their mind, ‘You got beat 45 to 3. A large segment of the population believes that can happen to you again.’
“[The Jets] are all watching. I wanted to further fuel and cement them in that bunker mentality of us against the world. . . .
“As a defensive player, I certainly knew that they had a chance to win and I thought that they certainly might win the game. But I knew when they saw 30-10 that I think they would be reminded of what most people were feeling. And I knew they needed to be a little angrier going on the field.”
Jackson is either telling the truth, or he isn’t. If he isn’t, then he’s merely trying to cover up the fact that he blew the pick, offering up a cockamamie explanation aimed at allowing him to have it both ways.
If, instead, Jackson was being honest, he’s arguably abusing his position as a supposedly neutral observer of the game by trying to provide motivation to the team that he’s secretly rooting for.
Why would Jackson root for the Jets? Think back to 2003, when Jackson announced after a season-opening 31-0 loss by the Pats to the Bills that the New England players “hate” coach Bill Belichick. Since then, the relationship between Belichick and Jackson has been frosty, at best.
Though it’s not as obviously problematic for ESPN as calling a co-worker “sweet cakes” (or perhaps trying to grab the co-worker’s “sweet cakes” in the break room), Jackson’s explanation suggests that maybe ESPN should get out of the business of picking games. If Jackson is right, then it means that he (and possibly others) have used the process of picking games as a tool for influencing players to play harder, by creating the perception that they’re disrespecting the team for which they’re secretly rooting.
It’s impossible to prove that such psychological exercises work. But if Jackson wasn’t lying when he said that he was hoping to give the Jets a boost via the perception that he was disrespecting the Jets, it means that Jackson was lying to the audience when he said that he believes the Patriots would win the game. (At a minimum, Jackson should have said, “I’m going to pick the Patriots, because I think it will motivate the Jets to win.” Of course, honesty in that regard would have undermined the intended effect.)
Though his multi-decade tenure with ESPN surely will insulate Jackson from any employment consequences, it’s a safe bet that he’ll be reminded by someone fairly high on the organizational chart that, in the future, his picks should reflect his true beliefs — and that he should never, ever say anything to suggest that any picks-gone-poorly didn’t reflect his true beliefs.
Either way, it’ll be interesting to see who he picks this week in the AFC title game.
We’re predicting that he’ll pick the Jets.
UPDATE: Jackson has said that he indeed believed that the Pats would win, and that he offered up his alternative explanation only because he was stung by the fact that Scott had called Jackson out.