Chase Claypool, and the Problem of Soulless Aggregation

| June 20th, 2023

True story. About a year ago (I think) I got word from a source close to Ted Phillips that the former team president was cutting his workday short to pay a visit to Virginia McCaskey. Virginia’s family was concerned the illness with which she was suffering at that time might be the one to finally take her out. Ted, essentially a member of the McCaskey family, did not want to miss what might be a final opportunity to thank the matriarch of the Chicago Bears for giving him the opportunity to lead the franchise he loves. I wrote a column about it called In Praise of Virginia McCaskey. I never wrote “Virginia McCaskey is dying.” As a matter of fact, I deliberately did not speculate on her health, even joking about the notion of “good health” for someone in their late-90s. And yet days after my column posted, I was inundated with folks on social media criticizing me for Virginia McCaskey’s continued existence.

You see, what happened was, nobody read the post. Nobody read what was, in fact, my attempt at a living eulogy, a column I have been told Virginia read and enjoyed immensely. They simply read the first paragraph and ran with, “DaBearsBlog says Virginia McCaskey will be dead in minutes.”

I don’t know Marc Silverman (Silvy) personally, but I feel like I do, and he has been a pivotal part of the success of DBB. Here’s what I imagine happened last week. Someone in Lake Forest told Silvy that the team is frustrated with Chase Claypool’s progress. Silvy went on his radio show and shared that information. But he didn’t say, “CHASE CLAYPOOL IS A BUST AND THE BEARS REGRET THE TRADE!” He actually said there were frustrations, which there usually are when injuries are involved, and the ball was now effectively in Claypool’s court. He sounded, at least to me, completely measured and perfectly reliable. But the next thing you know, it is a nationally aggregated headline and the whole of #BearsTwitter is “forced” to respond, themselves having no earthly clue what anyone inside Halas Hall thinks about anything.

Here’s what I know about Chase Claypool. I know he was an incredibly productive receiver over the first two years of his career, averaging 60-860-5. I know Ryan Poles loved his unique set of skills enough to deliver the Steelers a second-round draft pick in the middle of the 2022 campaign. And I know that Claypool was relatively unproductive in the months that followed, unsurprising since he joined the worst team in the league and his quarterback fought through injuries over the final month. Do I think Claypool is going to be a star in Chicago? I have no idea. Do I think Claypool is going to be out of Chicago after the 2023 season? I have no idea. But I am willing to wait until he has a full off-season with a quarterback who likes him a quite a bit so that I can judge him over the course of a full campaign.

And I can tell you what someone inside Halas Hall told me about the Chase Claypool story: “They are out there running around in shorts. What is there to be frustrated about?” (This person was on vacation and accompanied their text response with a picture of blue water and a green beverage.) The subtext of this comment: frustrations with Claypool, and Claypool’s overall production, are not that important big picture. If wasting a second-round pick brings this building down, the structural integrity never existed at the start.

So why did this innocuous Silvy comment gain such traction? The answer is not complicated. The sports media landscape is now a conglomerate of aggregators; folks who do none of their own research, cultivate none of their own sources, write at about a seventh-grade level, and get paid by the click. They scavenge the internet for anything they can turn into a search result on Google. It seems a miserably hollow existence to me, but to each their own. These aggregators feed off the notion that NFL fans are the most impatient human beings to be found in the whole of the sports world. Everything has to be a scoop. Every post has to be posited as news.

These aggregators also believe fans are stupid and more often than not they are proven correct. I’ve always said about the phrase “snake oil salesman” that we only know that phrase because people bought a ton snake oil! Off the record, the folks doing this work will tell you their mandate is simply to create as many posts as possible. They don’t care about the veracity of the content because they are shielded by the notion that it is not their content. They’re just the messengers. Google Chase Claypool and here is what the aggregators will tell you.

(I have included the image above and not the links because I do not want to encourage you to actually read these…whatever they are. AI could produce more interesting paragraphs. “The reset button,” for example, is not about the Bears hitting the reset button. This is about FANS hitting the reset button, which is just about the dumbest thing imaginable.)

Some of the other headlines filling the soulless fields of Camp Aggregation include the periodical formally known as Sports Illustrated suggesting “Steelers Keep Winning Chase Claypool Trade,” PurplePTSD gloating that “There’s Trouble at Home for Vikings Division Rivals” and WI Sports Heroics claiming “Green Bay Saved a Headache” by not acquiring Claypool.

All of this is completely out of touch with reality, but what do these aggregators care? They don’t have any editorial oversight. There is no responsibility here. Chase Claypool didn’t cost the Bears $50 million. He cost them the opportunity to flip a coin on a prospect in the late spring, and the pick Pittsburgh acquired has never played a professional down so winning the trade would be a bit tricky to quantify. Claypool is going to be the Bears second or third option on the outside. If the Bears, and by “the Bears” I mean their front office, were unhappy with Claypool’s development in their system, or his recovery from injury, what point would there be in this leak? The only plausible explanation is to motivate the player and if they are attempting to motivate the player that should tell you they still believe in his potential.

Silvy’s “report” was a note, a detail, a piece of the narrative, but not the whole narrative. I often hear from people within the organization who specifically want a particular idea floated into the public sphere. If the floater is a friend, I do it. 2023 is a contract year for Chase Claypool. 2022 was his worst season. Anyone who doesn’t understand the pressure this player faces, both internal and external, does not understand the psychological and financial nature of sport. But understanding this requires nuance and the internet (and really, the whole of the world) no longer trades in nuance.

What happens when Claypool catches a touchdown pass against the Packers in Week One? The answer is nothing. Nobody will remember any of this because that is also the point. The essence of soulless aggregation is the aggregators move on to the next thing, quickly. The site Sports Mockery, which should be banished off the face of the internet earth, quite literally points to its own lack of seriousness in its name but while having an almost impressive SEO footprint. That site, on Friday alone, had 11 NEW posts. 11!! Do you honestly believe the producer of those posts spent more than a few minutes thinking about the material in any of them?

In late May, less than a month ago, Justin Fields said the following about Chase Claypool: “That’s one thing I’m truly proud to say, seeing his work ethic, his attitude change. You can just see he’s taking another step, so definitely excited for that.” This is a real quote, from the person who will be relying upon Claypool most this coming season. After punishing myself, and surveying all of these aggregated stories re: Silvy’s comment, I did not find a single mention of this quote; not a single attempt to balance the scale, or at least provide some depth to the commentary. Why? Because to do so would require a modicum of work ethic, a semblance of integrity. Not a pint of integrity, a shot. Hell, maybe not even a shot, a thimble full.

Because that’s a lot to ask for from a sports internet now dominated by children. Because if there is one thing I learned playing Monopoly throughout my childhood it’s this: children avoid the thimble at all costs.

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