Opinion: Some old advice Bengals, fans, local media should heed
Bengals Founder Paul Brown had a mandate for his players: "Act like you’ve been there before."
That would have been sound advice for today’s Bengals, their fans, and much of Cincinnati’s local news media. The Bengals made it to the AFC championship game for a second straight year, so they’d been there before.
But last year, the Bengals were the plucky, lovable underdogs in their Super Bowl run. This year, their fans and Cincinnati had drawn favorable attention with the public outpouring of support for Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who suffered nearly fatal cardiac arrest on the field here Jan. 2. Posters, cards, prayer sessions and other gatherings as Hamlin recovered in University of Cincinnati Medical Center drew appreciative attention from him, the Bills and the "Bills Mafia" fans.
And largely, the Cincinnati news media provided thorough and carefully responsible coverage of what was the nation’s No. 1 sports story for days.
It all started changing, almost immediately after the Bengals manhandled the Bills 27-10 in Buffalo to punch their ticket back to Kansas City. Bengals defensive back Mike Hilton called the Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium home "Burrowhead Stadium."
I’m not positive, but I’d bet Paul Brown also warned his players about that kind of thing. Bengals fans picked up on it, it spread, and the Chiefs paid attention. Bengals fans were providing "a lot of bulletin board material," tight end Travis Kelce said last week. Defensive tackle Chris Jones used the term a few times during his Friday press conference, ending with: "See Y’all at Burrowhead Stadium."
And somewhere, there was a duck screeching "AFTAB!" in alarm after Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval suggested on behalf of the city that Burrow should take a paternity test to see if he was Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ daddy after the three earlier wins at Kansas City.
Washington Post columnist Candace Buckner wrote: "The Bengals used to be a feel-good story. Now they’re just feeling themselves. Gosh, they’re sooooo annoying."
Don’t think for a moment that the Chiefs weren’t feeling extra motivation Sunday evening.
"This celebration is personal because these guys believe the Bengals made it so," Kansas City Star columnist Sam McDowell wrote about the Chiefs after their 23-20 victory. "Burrowhead? We’re in Burrow’s head," he reported that one Chief said.
Mahomes said the Chiefs were "the most pumped-up I’ve ever seen them going into a game. I mean, the mayor came at me."
Kelce went back at the mayor after the game, calling on Pureval on live national TV to "know your role, and shut your mouth, you jabroni."
Meanwhile, for my Cincinnati area news media colleagues, time to put away the orange and black ties and dresses along with the Bengal-logo sweatshirts and knit caps − at least when you’re on the job.
My fellow Ohio University alum John Kiesewetter lit a local firestorm with his WVXU column last week detailing "TV Silliness" and "unabashed Bengalmania." The media critic with three-plus decades of experience said later on the public radio station that it seemed local stations were "trying to out-Bengal each other."
WLWT’s dapper co-anchor Mike Dardis defended his wearing orange ties and pocket squares on the air, saying in a Facebook post that "all the negative nellies … former journalists, sports scrooges or Bengals haters" should chill out and recognize that the stations are simply sharing fans’ excitement and "promoting local businesses and spreading community pride."
The longtime professional journalism rule of "no cheering in the pressbox" really extends to any form or news gathering or reporting. So when I saw Cincinnati journalists doing features or fan interviews in Kansas City while wearing Bengals garb, I had to cringe. And seeing others on local newscasts going much more over the top than Dardis by wearing flashy Bengals outfits and even a Joe Burrow jersey I think created confusion about whether the stations are officially affiliated extensions of the Bengals themselves.
To get a more-expert opinion than mine, I called on Thomas Hodson, director emeritus of the Scripps Journalism School at Ohio U who’s also been involved for decades with WOUB public media in Athens as a director, producer and in other roles.
Hodson said the type of cheerleading we saw locally probably is the stations reflecting the hunger of Cincinnati fans for a winner, since there’s never been a Super Bowl title for the Bengals − whose fans suffered through years of national joking about the hapless "Bungles."
"You combine the drought with being the butt of jokes and that contributes to the fervor," Hodson suggested.
But that doesn’t mean it’s OK to cheerlead while reporting.
"You’re doing the story. The story should speak for itself," Hodson said.
So what kind of Bengals stories should the local media be doing now? Maybe follow up the reporting by The Enquirer’s Scott Wartman on the Bengals’ secretive deal to sell naming rights to the taxpayer-built Paul Brown Stadium to Paycor HCM Inc., which Wartman’s reporting indicates was likely worth more than $100 million.
Yet nothing for taxpayers, no matter how much Bengals gear they buy. Here’s a thought: since Hamilton County commissioners would like to develop a youth sports complex to attract amateur sports events, why not push the Bengals to kick in some of their naming rights money to build that?
They could even call it The Paul Brown Youth Sports Complex in honor of their patriarch.
Just don’t let them have naming rights to sell. We’ve been there before.
Dan Sewell is a member of The Enquirer board of contributors. He can be reached at his personal email of email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Opinion: Some old advice Bengals, fans, local media should heed