- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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Geno Smith has to understand that being the starting quarterback of an NFL franchise -- especially in New York -- isn't just a 16-weeks-per-year job. It's 24/7, 365 days a year, particularly now that the world is filled with amateur reporters and photographers. Social media have changed the playing field for professional athletes. The Jets' quarterbacks, of all people, should know this better than most, considering past incidents involving Brett Favre and Mark Sanchez.
There are conflicting stories of what actually happened Friday at Los Angeles International Airport. Depending whom you believe, Smith was either the victim of a quick-tempered flight attendant on a power trip or the instigator of a dispute triggered by his refusal to stop yapping on his cell phone while sitting on a Virgin America flight ready to take off for his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Either way, Smith created a bad headline for the Jets, the second bad headline of the day. First it was Kellen Winslow and his alleged parking lot escapades, a 2-month-old story that broke Friday morning, then it was their quarterback in an altercation on a plane. It's particularly embarrassing for a franchise trying hard to shed its image as the NFL's big-top circus.
This much we know: Smith wasn't arrested and airport police didn't file a report, according to the public information officer at LAX. This suggests the incident wasn't serious. At the same time, there was the TMZ video of Smith leaving the airport by himself, getting picked up by a car service. He sure looked like a player ejected from the game, sent to the showers. If the dispute was no big deal, why didn't he stick around to get booked on another Virgin America flight? Maybe it's because the airline sent him away, refusing to rebook him. That's what happened, according to reports.
Smith's alleged behavior doesn't jibe with the player we saw during the season, a seemingly mature rookie who acted professionally in dealing with the media three times a week. Because he played so poorly at times, his media sessions were more like interrogations than interviews, but he rarely flinched, almost always managing to stay on his talking points. No doubt, he was coached up by the team's public relations staff, but you always wanted to believe he was just being himself.
Well, it's the offseason now, and the players are scattered across the country, interacting in the real world without the constant aid of a PR official. It's Smith's job -- and the job of every player -- to represent his employer in a positive manner. You want your quarterback to be the CEO of the franchise. Even if he can't play like Peyton Manning, you at least want your quarterback to act like him. That's the model. You'd rather have your quarterback making TV commercials than making news for the wrong reasons.
Smith isn't having the greatest offseason. A woman, saying she had an affair with him, posted a photo that she alleged to be of Smith's private parts. Naturally, it fueled comparisons to Favre and Sanchez, both of whom ended up on the Internet in -- shall we say? -- unflattering situations.
Look, Smith is young, only 23, so he's bound to make mistakes. Maybe he'll respond to these experiences the way he responded to adversity during the season. He found a way to get better. He has to understand that we don't stop keeping score when the last game ends.