With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers losing in excruciating yet again, a lot of fans are upset. That's perfectly understandable, justified and maybe even necessary. But in that upset, a lot of people are also jumping to conclusions and blaming things that really aren't to blame. Yes, the age-old game of blame-the-best-players-on-your-team is back.
Specifically, fans are blaming Gerald McCoy because he's friendly with opposing players after the game, and Akeem Spence for smiling after the team failed to recover a surprise onside kick. That's fueled by a long-standing perception that Gerald McCoy is not a leader -- an unverifiable claim about intangibles, supported largely by vague references to facial expressions and demeanor. Ultimately, though, it's about the players not showing the same level of emotion that fans are feeling.
I get that people don't like to see Bucs players palling around with other teams' players after a loss. You want to see your own emotions mirrored on the field. After all, this game exists for the fans. That's why it's being broadcast, why it's being played in a stadium, and why it's a multi-billion dollar industry. So be upset -- but don't make the mistake of equating your anger with analysis.
Akeem Spence laughing after the onside kick and Gerald McCoy being friendly with players across the league isn't why the Bucs lost, nor why they've lost games in the past. They lost to Washington because Bradley McDougald couldn't cover Jordan Reed, because Mike Jenkins couldn't cover Jamison Crowder and because of consistent communication and coverage breakdowns. They lost because they couldn't score a touchdown from the goal-line, because the defense didn't force a single punt in the second half, because in the end, a whole lot of players played like garbage.
We can actually analyze that stuff. We can look at the tape, and see who played poorly and who played well. We don't need to stick with vague accusations that are impossible to improve, like assertions about leadership and emotion, and complaints that McCoy isn't angry. McCoy is never angry with other players, whether he's played well or not, whether the team wins or not. It has nothing to do with what he puts out on the field. Him shaking Kirk Cousins' hand after the game has nothing to do with why they lost.
Instead, though, some people feel the need to make this not about what players actually put on the field, but about their personal feelings about how players interact after it. It's telling that these complaints about players' demeanor rarely seem to focus on the players who actually got beat. I didn't see Mike Jenkins act happy after the loss, but that didn't stop him from getting beat over and over again. That's because fans' reactions right now are not about what the Bucs need to do to get better, but about fans' frustration with a team that can't seem to get it together.
After all, do you think that Mike Jenkins is suddenly a better player if McCoy isn't laughing after the game? That would be absurd.
Players joking around during the game, and being friendly after, happens on every team, after every game, because a lot of players across the league are friends and they don't get many chances to see each other during the season. Fundamentally, these players are simply human beings who have relationships with other human beings. They are not a vessel for fans' emotional frustration with the team, and certainly not after the game. And expecting them to be just that will leave you disappointed every time. This is, after all, a job for players.
This is how we get people talking not about the players that demonstrably failed to do their jobs, but about players who did their jobs but didn't display the "right" demeanor. This wouldn't be a problem if it just limited itself to fans being upset at the demeanor. But instead it bleeds over into analysis -- that's how you get radio hosts talking about McCoy as "the" problem with the Bucs, when that's demonstrable nonsense. It's how people focus their criticism on one of the team's best players, instead of their worst. And finally, it's how actual analysis gets displaced by vague appeals to emotion.