The NFL has chimed in on #HandshakeGate.
The league is involved not because the pregame interactions between 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman and Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield create issues under any specific NFL policy but because the media conglomerate owned and operated by the NFL published the story that falsely accused Mayfield of snubbing Sherman. Specifically, NFL.com added the following editor’s note at the top of the item from Mike Silver.
“NFL Media’s Michael Silver had a lengthy on-the-record discussion with 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman following Monday night’s Cleveland-San Francisco game,” the note explains. “After the publishing of this column, video surfaced that showed Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield slapping hands with Sherman before the coin toss, then running to his sideline after the referee picked up the coin. Sherman later acknowledged the initial shake on Twitter while further explaining why he still took offense.”
No changes have been made to the actual story. It continues to create the impression that Mayfield refused to shake the hand of Sherman and 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner prior to the coin toss on Monday night, even though multiple pieces of video evidence show that this is false.
The explanation in the editor’s note minimizes the falsehood contained in the story, and it fails to point out that Sherman doubled and tripled down on his claim that Mayfield refused to shake Sherman’s hand in tweets based on video that did not conclusively reveal a Mayfield-Sherman handshake. When indisputable video emerged, Sherman deleted those tweets. The league’s approach meshes with Sherman’s effort to move the target, pointing to Mayfield “running to the sideline” as the basis for Sherman’s reaction, even though Silver’s story clearly refers to the interactions before, not after, the coin was tossed as the reason for Sherman’s ire.
It’s a strange situation, to be sure. The media often finds itself in the midst of a controversy regarding erroneous stories or misunderstandings. In this case, the media outlet at the heart of the issue is owned and operated by the NFL.
Complicating matters is the history between Silver, Mayfield, and former Browns coach Hue Jackson. Silver and Jackson are friends; Jackson and Mayfield are enemies. Not surprisingly, Silver has been criticial of Mayfield. It’s been an issue in the past, and it’s hard not to at least wonder whether Silver pushed this specific story to publication without stopping to think, “Hey, there may be video of this incident in the possession of the NFL or the 49ers that will either confirm or debunk Sherman’s claims.”
Of course, the fact that this information was discovered after the story emerged provided an intriguing glimpse into the sausage-making process. But this won’t change the reality that the false claim that Mayfield snubbed Sherman and Buckner firmly took root — and was uncorrected by the NFL for at least three hours — before the NFL engaged in a half-hearted effort to supplement its story with a softened version of the truth.