The events of the past week involving Randy Moss, Brad Childress and the Minnesota Vikings have provided fodder for the usual harsh and premature judgments that the league and media often direct at the star receiver. However, Childress’ actions would suggest that there is a profound misunderstanding of Moss that is prevalent around the league. Even long-time friend and former teammate, Cris Carter, has admitted that he ultimately does not understand Moss. Moss, he assumes, has issues with authority figures when the receiver begins to doubt their capability.
Childress has also demonstrated a profound lack of understanding and foresight when it comes to Moss. Childress should have known that when one goes about acquiring Randy Moss, it is presumably important to keep the fact that he is Randy Moss at the forefront of one’s mind—it should be the preponderant consideration in the decision. When you go out and get a Randy Moss and you ask him to do his best rendition of Randy Moss, you should never be surprised if he turns around and exhibits the character of Randy Moss.
It has been well documented that Randy Moss indeed does not ‘shine shoes, tape ankles, or cut checks’. But it should also be noted (and assumed) that he is not a politically correct food critic, he is not a media corroborator, he is not a public relations representative, he wants no part of your cartel and he doesn’t need what you are selling. He has (or more likely, has not) heard about you, and he’s ‘all set’. Asking of him anything that he is not or does not do is unlikely to bring about your desired result. If you possess a number of complexes—inferiority, control freak, etc—or you have an ego that is too fragile to withstand criticism—Randy Moss is likely not your best bet. Also, when Moss is handed a microphone on a sinking team after a tough loss to his former successful team, it seems unreasonable to expect him to say all the ‘right’ things in the face of all obvious truths to the contrary.
Does Moss have a problem with authority?
His respect does not always come easily. Reports of Moss undermining authority seem to be minimal from the winning Denny Green era in Minnesota. New England? Not a peep—in fact, quite the contrary (oh right he discussed his contract situation which was apparently a no no after a win. It would have been more appropriate after a big loss?). Primarily in Oakland and Minnesota under Childress have his respect and effort levels come into question. The bottom line is that Randy Moss demands that you put a winner on the field. He does his best when you can hold up your end and utilize his strengths. Is this too much for him to ask? To those that are not good at winning, I suppose it is.
Does this rightfully make him a villain, or does it suggest that he is a consistent and reasonable judge of character? Perhaps a bit of both. Are these incidents reasons to criticize him endlessly and tarnish his reputation? Not necessarily. We might draw closer to better answers when we put a better effort in trying to comprehend the Moss enigma. I personally am not convinced that the media’s judgment of character has been better than Moss’ own.
Why might this be the case? Schadenfreude…
The German word Schadenfreude refers to the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. It is most often directed at those whose talents and successes we covet. Its target is people of stature, natural ability, wealth and fame (Tiger Woods, Conrad Black, etc)—and of these, particularly the figures who are difficult to understand, the personalities that fail to resonate, the freak, the other, he who has skills that seem to require little effort, he who is ‘not like me and with whom I cannot sympathize’. In such cases, people shed their objectivity in favor of their predispositions. There is often the urge to see these figures fall and the inability to look away when it appears that they have done so. Those who give-in to these sorts of vindictive emotions desperately want to discredit greatness, tarnish names, and reduce the livelihoods of those they resent.
Moss seems a prime candidate at which the sentiment of Schadenfreude could be directed.
A better understanding of Moss should lead coaches and organizations to a reorganized framework of expectations, allowing them to better utilize the receiver and find ways to best maximize his rare potential. Furthermore, with a deeper and more sympathetic understanding, the media and fans could better appreciate what Moss brings to the game. By thinking critically and digging deeper, we may even find valuable lessons of character behind his words and actions.
Believe it or not, Randy Moss has a distinct and unwavering sense of justice. This does not mean that it is always laudable, or that he has ever attempted to clearly articulate it. What we will find hard to deny is that his candor has decidedly justified through a unique insider perspective what most of the football world has suspected about the character quality of two head coaches—Belichick and Childress. Randy Moss, as experienced coach connoisseur, openly supports notions of one coach’s greatness and the other’s lack thereof.
And this point also helps reveal that Randy Moss in fact does realize that character goes a long way in this game. His value-system is unorthodox by our current standards. It is nonetheless intuitive and "straightforward." For Moss, the unspoken principle on which he operates tells us that, at the end of the day, it is important to be oneself, to not get caught up in the circus that the media wants to portray, to not try to become what others think one ought to be (a point on which Moss and Belichick would perhaps most closely mesh in their thinking).
Moss desires to be an influential leader and a team player. But he also understandably refuses to be unappreciated or to have his potential go untapped for a prolonged period. Nothing about the premium services offered suggests that his standard should be anything lower. He is a rare talent with a finite amount of time to fulfill his unique potential.
As a coach, he can be either your strongest soldier, or he can be a Spartacus figure and constant thorn in your side. When you stammer and hesitate, he will be the one to call you on your BS—without regard for your unspoken rules, your feelings, your customs, your games of language and public relations, or the logos and flags that you’ve stamped everything with. He recognizes that being true to oneself and one’s character requires one to transcend artifice and remain apathetic to what is inauthentic. Moss is unapologetically himself and has never hinted at selling out or compromising his integrity—an integrity that this age of media has long since forgotten or been able to recognize.
As for now, he continues to be the man holding the glowing orb of ‘freakish’ pent-up potential, constantly hoping that the right coach and system will come along and help him release it. Belichick released it. But when he did, the people praised the false prophets of fantasy numbers and media darlings and said ‘ooh look at Tom Brady, throwing 50 TDs… he’s a god among men. Look at Wes Welker, his motor never quits. Oh yeah, and Moss is good too, I guess'. Meanwhile Moss is over on the outside rightfully thinking ‘you people are crazy… I clearly am making this thing go’. It is no coincidence that Moss was the foundational piece of the two highest scoring teams in history. Or that Brady and Welker’s numbers come close to doubling when you stick Moss on the field. When he is gone, Brady becomes mortal and Welker's engine stalls.
Moss has gone underappreciated by teams, fans, and media for too long, at least partly due to a widespread inability and unwillingness to make sense of his character.