The circumstances aren’t in dispute: After the Detroit Lions got whupped by the score of 42-7 by New Orleans, Detroit News columnist Rob Parker asked a question of Lions Coach Rod Marinelli: “Do you wish your daughter would have married a better defensive coordinator?” You had to know something about the team to get that one: Marinelli’s daughter, indeed, was married to Marinelli’s top defensive coach, Joe Barry. And Barry has been stinking it up for some time now, giving the NFL a cellar-dwelling defensive unit.
That all went down on Dec. 21.
Since then, Parker has left his job at the Detroit News. In officialese, he resigned, but his editor, Don Nauss, talked about how to interpret that bit of news: “We said we were taking the matter seriously and we would deal with it. Draw your own conclusions about what transpired. I have to emphasize Rob submitted his resignation and we accepted it. It was a voluntary action.”
How ’bout this for a voluntary action, Nauss: Why don’t you get a new job?
Think about it for a second. A columnist—which means, in news terms, a person who’s entitled, and indeed encouraged, to push opinions into the public realm—asked a person in authority an edgy question. And a great question. The facts show that the coach hired his son-in-law to be defensive coordinator, and said defensive coordinator ends up stinking up the arena for two seasons straight.
Now, wasn’t it time for a question about nepotism from your hard-hitting columnist, Mr. Nauss? Isn’t that exactlythe sort of inquiry you want coming out of his mouth? But you, Mr. Nauss, insist that the question was unprofessional, perhaps prompted by Marinelli himself, who took objection to the question, saying, ”Anytime you attack my daughter, I’ve got a problem with that.” (Just to set the record straight, coach: No, the columnist wasn’t attacking your daughter; he was attacking your hiring acumen. No wonder you’ve been fired.)
I suppose none of this would have happened if Parker had been more bland with his phrasing: “Sir, you hired a defensive coordinator who’s also part of your family. Do you regret that decision, and did that fact that he was part of your family influence your decision to make the hire?“
But the difference between that question and the one that Parker asked is a dash of attitude, of panache—just the stuff, in other words, that we seek from our columnists. Just tick off the negatives here: Parker wasn’t being: 1) biased; 2) racist; 3) inaccurate; 4) insensitive; and 5) he wasn’t twisting quotes, making up facts, or otherwise misrepresenting himself or failing to disclose a conflict of interest, or any of those other journalistic misdeeds.
This was just plain good journalism.