Two members of the Flying Wallendas crossed Times Square on a high wire this week — perhaps a safer stunt than making one’s living in talk radio, which is its own tightrope act.
Yet, while we should never delight in someone potentially losing his or her livelihood for saying the wrong thing, WHB-AM talker Kevin Kietzman’s broadside against Kansas City Chiefs Coach Andy Reid — that he can’t “fix” either his players or his family — went way beyond poor taste or slipshod phrasing.
In discussing suspended player Tyreek Hill on Monday, Kietzman opined: “Andy Reid does not have a great record of fixing players. He doesn’t. Discipline is not his thing. It did not work out particularly well in his family life, and that needs to be added to this as we’re talking about the Chiefs. He wasn’t real great at that, either. He’s had a lot of things go bad on him: family and players. He is not good at fixing people.”
Though Kietzman readily admits it was an ill-advised, inarticulate “throwaway line,” it was much worse than that. It was extremely hurtful and offensive, especially considering that Reid lost his 29-year-old son Garrett to an accidental heroin overdose in 2012. His other son, Britt, a Chiefs assistant coach, has navigated his own struggles with addiction.
Even in the midst of toxic talk, who could think it’s a good idea to include in a discussion of Reid’s coaching abilities any sort of reference — whether direct or implicit — to his children’s addiction, and even his son’s death? Invasive and presumptuous don’t begin to describe Kietzman’s rant. If the coach’s private life is fodder for this kind of public discussion — and it shouldn’t be — then how about some empathy instead? Or just the humility to know you’re absolutely out of your depth when deigning to judge another family’s parenting, with complete disregard for the adversity and anguish they’ve endured?
The most attentive or strictest of parents among us hold frightfully limited sway over their adult offspring. Moreover, in the age of opioids, how callous is it to look at family members battling addiction as a “discipline” problem? A little discipline was certainly called for in Kietzman’s case.
His tortured explanations afterward have been just as undisciplined. “I was talking about the (Chiefs’) owner’s record of ‘fixing’ players, the team’s record and Andy’s record,” he tried to argue. If so, why say, “it did not work out particularly well in his family life ...” And he even separates the two points, by adding that Reid’s family life “needs to be added to this as we’re talking about the Chiefs. He wasn’t real great at that either. He’s had a lot of things go bad on him: family and players.” Kietzman wasn’t just talking about the team; his own words make that clear.
Kietzman points to his charitable work on and personal familiarity with teen suicide as proof he’d never disparage any surviving parent. That’s admirable, absolutely. And people today tend to too quickly and easily believe the worst in others. But even giving Kietzman the benefit of that doubt, using any personal challenges to point out a coach’s alleged professional shortcomings is out of bounds.
Whatever becomes of Kietzman, suspended for now from a station he has an ownership interest in, this has to be a learning moment. While exploring America’s free speech frontier, know there are still limits. One cannot and should not rope families, and by extension family tragedies, into the public arena.
And when you’re on a tightrope, don’t look down. Especially on others.