Herschel Walker's 'NFL Comeback' and the Complicit Media Response

Herschel Walker provided the media with a tremendous amount of fodder on Monday's Strikeforce conference call. He talked about safety in MMA and football, a labor union for fighters, his (lack of) long-term plans in MMA, his crazy eating habits (for the thousandth time), and the avalanche of requests for donations he's from charities all across America after donating the entirety of the purse from his first fight to charity. Hell, we even had someone claim to be from the Sporting News (Jon Luther says it's someone from the Howard Stern Show) and hound Walker with questions about beating up his wife. (In 2008, Walker's ex-wife told Good Morning America that Walker pulled a gun to her head.)

So what do most sports writers want to talk about? Walker's throwaway remark about returning to the NFL:

"I've told everyone that at 50 I might try football again to show people I can do that," Walker said on Monday during a conference call to promote his upcoming fight. "I want to be the George Foreman of football, come back and do that one more time."

The first article I saw pop up was Mike Chiappetta's piece for NFL Fanhouse. (That piece went up a full 90 minutes earlier than Chiappetta's piece for MMA Fighting - which still focused more on Walker's NFL ambitions than the fight he'll participate in on Saturday.) The story then spread all over the traditional sports media world - ESPN, Fox Sports, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, etc. Google News lists 133 news articles when searching for "Herschel Walker" with most of the headlines framed around his comeback remarks.

It's bad enough that Walker's comment has cast a shadow over coverage about him and the fight card on Saturday, but it's even more infuriating to witness how most of the media is reporting on it.

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Read through some of those articles. You'll see references to Walker's 18,168 all-purpose yards in the NFL, the disastrous trade between the Minnesota Vikings and the Dallas Cowboys, Walker's claim of running a 4.38 40-yard dash last February, his unreal physique at the age of 48, and all sorts of other anecdotes from his career as a sporting Renaissance Man.

You won't find many writers, however, dismissing this comeback talk as a half-baked delusion of grandeur. Fortunately, Pat Yasinskas of ESPN's NFC South blog provides a voice of reason:

Herschel Walker says he wants to make a football comeback and he wants to play for the Atlanta Falcons. I'm not sure how serious Walker was when he made those comments during a conference call to promote an upcoming MMA event, but ... come on, Walker is 48 years old.

Yes, Walker always has been an athletic freak and he claims his MMA training has him in better shape than ever. I don't question that, but the fact is Walker last played in the NFL in 1997.

Football is a young man's game. Pro Football Reference lists Tony Richardson as the oldest running back in the NFL last season at 39 years of age. Richardson, however, was primarily used to block, and touched the ball a mere ten times during the season. The next running backs on the list are Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk, both of whom are 34 years old. They combined for 200 yards on 51 carries in 2010.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame website lists Jim Thorpe as the oldest running back to play in the history of the NFL at the age of 40. Thorpe played his last down of football for the Chicago Cardinals in 1928.

Simply put, you won't find a general manager or head coach seeking out a 48-year-old to play running back for his professional football team. Anyone willing to talk about Walker returning to the NFL without addressing that fact should be regarded as highly suspicious at best and completely untrustworthy at worst.

It's understandable that in this media age of search engine optimization and page views that a quote like this would get coverage, but there's no reason to report this in such a fashion that leads one to believe it is anything but a fairly tale. Walker is a tremendous athlete and by all accounts a genetic freak, but discussion about his chances of playing another down in the NFL start at 10,000-to-1 and go from there. 

So, go ahead. Report it. I get it. Just don't insult my intelligence at the same time.

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