Mike Sielski wrote a Sunday morning Inquirer column titled “The Eagles thrive as underdogs. Brock Purdy is the ultimate underdog. Something’s gotta give.” Below, a sub-header says “The ultimate underdog goes against the town and team that live for that label. An Eagles loss would be as thick as irony gets.”

That’s a rather pedestrian headline and nothing notable.

But Mike and the Inquirer got totally crushed when a line from the article was used in this tweet:

As of publication on Monday afternoon, the tweet has 9.7 million views, almost a thousand replies, and more than 2,100 retweets and quote tweets.

The genesis of the ire is a perceived diss of Jalen Hurts, who is simply “admired and beloved here,” while Brock Purdy gets “god” status. It resulted in basically three types of complaints that I think are summed up in these replies:

That third response is from CNN’s Jake Tapper and originally said “cut this shit out.” Everybody was getting in on the action and sculpting their criticism from one of the above doughy templates, asking questions like “why do we need a story about the opposing quarterback?” or making statements like “this is a dog whistle.”

I read the story three times in a row, which is behind a paywall, and it’s not very long, just 12 paragraphs and about 750 words. The premise I think is summed up best in the third paragraph, when Mike writes:

…Jalen Hurts might just be the NFL’s most valuable player, and his counterpart might just be the NFL’s best story.

Then the “god” line begins the fourth paragraph, which goes like this:

“Hurts is admired and beloved here, but Brock Purdy would be a god in Philadelphia. A god. The last player picked in the 2022 draft, leading the league in completion percentage, passer rating, and yards per attempt, throwing 19 touchdown passes and just six interceptions?”

(couple of lines)

“Brock Purdy would be the latest and maybe the most lovable underdog in the city that goes gaga for any athlete who had a modicum of adversity to overcome.”

There’s a quote from Nick Sirianni praising Purdy, and then the story continues with a fleshing out via statistics and some relevant other nuggets. It’s pretty straightforward, and it basically just says that Eagles fans would have loved Purdy as an underdog if he was drafted here and not there.

I got in touch with Mike to ask him about this whole thing blowing up:

CB: What did you make of the response to the column?

Sielski: Well I don’t think it was response to the column, I think it was response to that tweet and a quote from the column that doesn’t reflect the entirety of the piece. And the reason I know this is because, as I’m sure you guys do, we get metrics on each thing that we write at the Inquirer. I have the metrics on the column and the average length of engagement on the column was ten seconds. So that tells you all you need to know about whether people were objecting to what I wrote, or objecting to what they thought I wrote, based on a tweet.

CB: So a case of people seeing a social media headline and making up their mind based on that.

Sielski: I think people should have read the column. At least one person I engaged with admitted to not reading the column, and they would have understood that the line – it wasn’t a headline, it was a line in the column – they would have understood it was completely appropriate and completely true. What I wrote is true.

CB: You know why people are sensitive to the black quarterback and white quarterback thing.

Sielski: Oh absolutely, and I’m well aware of it too. Believe me, I’ve been around long enough to have seen the idiots who thought that A.J. Feeley was a better quarterback than Donovan McNabb. I have seen T.J. McConnell become the “second coming” of Magic Johnson. I am well aware of that. Though I didn’t mention it in the column, of course it was on my mind when I was writing the column. But it’s also the kind of thing, where if you’re familiar with Philadelphia sports and Philadelphia culture, I kind of bake that into a topic like this. It doesn’t change the fact that Brock Purdy was the last guy picked in the draft, that he went to Iowa State, that he only got a chance to play because two other quarterbacks got hurt ahead of him. While Jalen Hurts certainly is a terrific underdog story, too, it’s not the same kind of underdog story as Brock Purdy. You know as well as I do that people go would go gaga for Purdy if that situation were here in Philadelphia.

CB: To me, it read like “here’s an underdog story, Philly fans like an underdog story and they’d like this guy if he played for the Eagles.” But what’s your response to people who say that this story didn’t have to be written?

Sielski: That’s ridiculous. It was a big game with a lot of different storylines. It’s not my job to write about topics or present angles that covered everywhere else. My job is to try to write something fresh and different, that gets people thinking. This was a storyline to me that had not been covered at all locally, nobody was writing about Brock Purdy, and this to me was an obvious storyline. The Eagles think of themselves as underdogs, the fans think of the team as underdogs, the fans relish underdog status, and Brock Purdy is about as underdog as it gets, hence the storyline.

CB: For the sake of clarity on the process – you pitch and write the story, the editors do the headlines, and then a social media person sends out the tweets. Is that how it typically goes?

Sielski: I wrote the headline on the actual column. I wrote, “The Eagles think of themselves as underdogs, Brock Purdy is the ultimate underdog, something has to give.” Someone else sent out that tweet from the Inquirer sports or Inquirer account. I did not send that tweet out.

CB: Another thing here is that with the paywall in place, people might find themselves dissuaded. Maybe there’s a person who says “I don’t know about this blurb,” but they click and run into the roadblock anyway. I guess there’s nothing you can do about that.

Sielski: Yeah and look, I’m not naive about any of this. I understand that there are going to be people on Twitter who aren’t going to read the column, and who react to a tweet. That part I get. What bothers me is that there were a number of people in the media who purport to be journalists, who didn’t bother reading that column either. That says way more about them than it does about me.

Sielski followed up by noting pushback along the lines of “why doesn’t the hometown writer support the hometown team?“, but maintains that there was no disrespect of Hurts in the article.

“I wrote in the column that Jalen Hurts is perhaps MVP of the league, but that Brock Purdy is the better story,” Sielski explained. “He might be the best story in the league, because he’s a former third string guy, the last guy picked in the draft, who is now quarterbacking the Super Bowl favorite. There’s a lot going on here, and people to me are projecting whatever they want to see on whatever I did or did not write.”

Looking over the criticism, I would say that assertions of “racism” are beyond ludicrous. We’ve documented on this site the changes that have taken place at the Inquirer since the BLM-inspired employee revolt of 2020. There have been myriad buyout cycles that resulted in an overwhelmingly white staff making way for men and women of color. The idea that the Inquirer is dog whistling is comical, since they came out and told everyone they were making a strong shift towards becoming an “anti racist” newsroom. Their staff is very diverse in 2023 and management has been extremely conscientious about stories involving race.

Second, I would disagree with the thought that Jalen Hurts is an underdog story. It’s certainly true that Jalen overcame some adversity and had a unique path to the pros (benched at Bama and all of that), but as someone else wrote in our Slack chat earlier today, Hurts “was a four-star recruit who won a national title and was a Heisman finalist who played at two of the biggest football programs in the country, then went in the second round of the NFL draft.

So, no, Hurts’ story is not Brock Purdy’s story.

The criticism that’s most valid here I think is the idea of “nobody wants to read about the opposing quarterback on gameday.” I did see a lot of that on Twitter, stuff like “why did this have to be written?” There’s some truth to that, since most Eagles fans probably wanted to see Purdy flat on his back, and not lauded in the local newspaper. But it was typical in print journalism, not that long ago, to write stories about opposing players in addition to covering the home team as well. I think there’s a been a bit of a generational shift in terms of how those columns are received. Younger Eagles fans don’t seem to give half a shit about any of that.

My take here is that a rough tweet sunk a mostly harmless column. In hindsight, maybe the “god” line was a little bit much, and didn’t have to be in there at all. But the elevation of Purdy came across to some people as disrespect towards Jalen Hurts, who did get praise in the third paragraph. Then the racial thing came into play and it just snowballed from there.

You win some, and you lose some.