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The year in Boston sports: Biggest media controversies of 2011

12.30.11 at 9:42 am ET
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The Boston media did its best to live up to its reputation in 2011, creating and reporting on controversy throughout the year. Some of the issues were initiated by the players themselves, via tweets and press conferences. Others were started by former players who have moved over to the dark side.

With that in mind, we present our list of the top 10 Boston sports media controversies of 2011.

10. MLB institutes a dress code for media members

Although the dress code itself was not out of the ordinary, it was significant that MLB was the first professional sports league to police the fashion of its media members when it announced the policy in December. Items on the list of banned clothes include tank tops, short shorts/skirts, ripped jeans, visible undergarments, one-shoulder or strapless tops, clothes with team logos and flip-flops. The dress code came one year after the NFL had a situation on its hands when Mexican TV reporter Ines Sainz was the subject of catcalls from members of the Jets after wearing a tight pair of jeans to a practice.

Baseball Writers’ Association of America vice president Susan Slusser served on the guidelines panel and acknowledged: “I believe the baseball media in general could dress slightly more professionally,” adding partly in jest: “Don’t dress like a hobo and don’t dress like a ho, those are the extremes they’re looking at.” This would be disappointing news to fans of Heidi Watney, but she left NESN anyhow.

9. Rodney Harrison rips Patriots defense on NBC

After Ben Roethlisberger carved up the Patriots secondary for 365 yards on Oct. 30, Harrison, the former Patriots safety who now serves as an NBC analyst, questioned the defensive strategy of coach Bill Belichick and ripped the passive style of the secondary.

“I look at that secondary, and they’re playing really soft coverage, that bend-but-don’t-break defense,” Harrison said. “I hate that. I think you have to challenge your players more. You have to start blitzing, force the quarterback into making mistakes. I know you can’t stop everything. I know they were afraid of their speed. But sometimes you’ve just got to go challenge them. And I just don’t see them doing it.”

Earlier this month, Harrison took his criticism a step further, saying, “They should be concerned, because that secondary is probably the worst secondary I’ve seen in the last decade.” Added Harrison of Tom Brady: “He feels like he has to shoulder a lot of the pressure because that defense is so bad.”

Responded defensive lineman Vince Wilfork during a Dec. 12 appearance on The Big Show: “I want to [call the Patriots critics] all the time and tell them to shut the ‘f’ up.”

8. Mike Milbury has confrontation with youth hockey player

The NBC analyst and former Bruins player and coach was charged with assault and battery, making threats, and disorderly conduct after he grabbed the shirt of a 12-year-old boy and confronted him following an on-ice dispute with Milbury’s son after a peewee game Dec. 9 in Brookline. Milbury, 59, was an assistant coach for his son’s team when he became irate with the opposing player. Milbury was taken off the air while the charges were pending, but last week the case was thrown out.

“It was an unfortunate misunderstanding,” Milbury insisted.

The child’s parents did not agree. “They are concerned about the message this sends, because they believe that their son was assaulted,” said representing attorney John Burke.

7. Bobby Valentine rips Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett on ESPN before becoming Sox manager

Before Valentine interviewed for the job of Red Sox manager, he was already in the doghouse with Crawford and Beckett. During his stint as a commentator for ESPN, Valentine criticized Crawford for his fielding and his open batting stance. Valentine also called out Beckett for pitching too slowly, saying during an August game against the Yankees: “That’s a half-hour added to this game of him standing around and us sitting around watching him do nothing.”

Valentine apparently cleared the air with Beckett during a phone call, telling reporters at the winter meetings in December: ‘The first two sentences were, ‘Oh, by the way, I was really pissed off at what you said,’ and I said, ‘Let’s get that out of the way,’ and I said, ‘OK, that’s out of the way,’ and we talked about everything else. That was kind of the extent for his dislike of what I said.”

Crawford, however, has resisted Valentine’s attempts to reach out to him.

6. Adult film actress tweets pictures with Rob Gronkowski

The Patriots tight end isn’t afraid of being in the spotlight, which he was when adult film star BiBi Jones tweeted two pictures of her with a Gronkowski jersey on while standing next to the player. When he returned from the bye weekend and realized he had created a distraction before the team’s matchup with the Steelers, Gronkowski said he regretted the photos going public.

“I didn’t intend anything or to hurt the reputation of anyone on the New England Patriots, on behalf of Robert Kraft,” said Gronkowski, who acknowledged he met with the Patriots owner and apologized for any bad publicity that resulted. “That’s all. It was just a simple picture and that’s all.”

5. Wes Welker repeatedly mentions feet during press conference after Rex Ryan’s foot-fetish controversy

Not putting his best foot forward, Welker kept the feet references rolling while talking about the Jets in a press conference before last season’s playoff game. Only days after a video featuring Ryan, his wife and her feet went viral, Welker, being the “good little foot soldier he was,” did his best to answer the Jets’ trash talk in a more creative way. While many in New England found the press conference humorous, Belichick decided otherwise, benching Welker for the opening series of the game.

4. Boston Herald reporter Ian Rapoport tweets from Myra Kraft’s memorial service

After being criticized for sending out tweets that described the scene inside a Newton temple, Rapoport insisted he never sent messages during the service, only before and after. “I thought it was done in a respectful manner,” he told Dennis & Callahan on July 25. “It is a very newsworthy event.”

Added Rapoport: “The only thing that I’m sort of still thinking about that I think is difficult for some people to wrap their head around is I was inside the building. I was physically in the temple. … Maybe it might have been better to step outside in the reporter area, communicate the news that way and then go back in. I just didn’t want to lose my seat. So, maybe that’s something if I could do it again that I would consider physically where I was. I was in my seat. Would it have been better if I was in the hallway, in the doorway? I’m not sure, but those are kind of the things I’m thinking about.”

3. John Lackey rips the media for receiving a text before a game about his pending divorce

Maybe it was the pent-up anger due to his poor season or maybe he was mad about the way he has been treated by the media, but Lackey’s comments on Sept. 25 raised further questions. After a rare strong pitching effort in a win over the Yankees, Lackey called out the media. “Let me tell you the truth,” he said. “Thirty minutes before the game I got a text message on my cell phone from one of you, somebody in the media, talking about personal stuff. I shouldn’t even have to be standing up here dealing with it. I’m sitting here, listening to music. I don’t know who got my phone number, but that’s over the line. Anything else you want to talk about?’’

The Boston reporters were baffled, but it soon became clear what Lackey was referring to. Early the next morning, the national gossip website TMZ had the story of Lackey filing for divorce from his wife while she battled cancer.

2. Tedy Bruschi rips Chad Ochocinco for tweeting instead of studying the playbook

This was certainly a case of old vs. new. After Tom Brady chalked up 517 passing yards against the Dolphins in the first game of the season, Ochocinco tweeted that he was “blown away” by New England’s offense. Bruschi, the former Patriots linebacker who now serves as an analyst for ESPN, expressed disgust during a Sept. 13 appearance on The Big Show. Bruschi ripped Ochocinco, who had once catch for 14 yards in the game, saying that the receiver needed to spend more time with his playbook and less time on Twitter.

“Drop the awe factor, OK, Ocho? Chad, drop the awe factor,” Bruschi said. “You’re not a fan, all right. You’re not someone who’s on another team or watching TV. You’re not an analyst. You’re a part of it. They want you to be a part of it. So, get with the program, because obviously you’re not getting it and you’re tweeting because you’re saying, ‘It’s amazing to see’? It’s amazing to see because you don’t understand it. You still don’t understand it and it’s amazing to you because you can’t get it.

“Stop tweeting and get in your playbook,” Bruschi added. “Wake up! If you’re just waking up now — I don’t know when this was, six minutes ago? — get out your bed and get to the stadium and watch some film if you still think it’s amazing. If you’re in it and you know what you’re doing and you execute out there you don’t think it’s amazing. You know why? Because it’s what you’re supposed to do.”

1. Terry Francona trashed in Boston Globe story by unnamed Red Sox sources

After the Red Sox’ epic September collapse, things went from bad to worse for Francona when an unnamed source told the Globe’s Bob Hohler that Francona was popping pain killers and having marital problems. Red Sox players including Kevin Youkilis challenged the unhappy insiders at Fenway to be man enough to put their name out there, while Francona expressed surprise and disgust at the story.

“The people that know me that well knew that what was said in the paper wasn’t true,” Francona said during a Dec. 1 appearance on The Big Show. “It was obviously said to hurt me. If there was one thing I was probably guilty of, it was protecting everyone in that organization. Everybody. I felt that was part of my responsibility, even to the point where in that last press conference, I said I take responsibility for this. I couldn’t get to the players. I thought, ‘OK, I’m done here. I’ll take responsibility and go away.’ Little did I know I was going to be going away limping because someone cut my legs out from under me.”

Meanwhile, Red Sox owners John Henry and Larry Lucchino became the targets of a number of critics, and they took to the airwaves to defend themselves.

Read More: bobby valentine, Chad Ochocinco, John Lackey, Mike Milbury