The Miami Dolphins and why the Perception of them is All Wrong

Perception is a funny thing. We each perceive the world a certain way, and in our minds that way is the correct way. Our past experiences (what we've learned, heard, seen, and felt) shape how we view our surroundings. No person has the exact same view of the world, but most people share common views. Murder and stealing are seen as unacceptable by the vast majority of the public, while things like charity and love are recommended.

But where do these views come from? What causes us to think in the way that we do? The full answer is different for everyone, but the main influence has to be who we were raised by. What about sports? What influences our thoughts and how we view the sports world? Read on.

What Influences Public Perception?

Public perception in sports works in a similar way, and since this is a Miami Dolphins site I will gradually narrow the focus to public perception in football with an emphasis on the Dolphins. No person has the exact same opinions on every player and team in the NFL, but most people think the same way about a majority of the teams and players. The question is: why do most people see most of the NFL in a similar way? Who or what causes fans to see the NFL in a similar light? There are two answers to that question: winning and sports media, and I will first quickly focus on winning. Winning is the ultimate judge and jury in the NFL. The perception of any team can be completely different after one or two seasons just because they won or not. A team like the Detroit Lions can go from being a laughable 0-16 to a playoff-bound 10-6 and the perception of them in the public's eyes will be changed. Winning is the unarguable perception changer, and there is no better way to change a team's reputation. Outside of winning, there is only one significant and clear-cut influence of perception, and that is sports media.

The Influence of Sports Media

The combination of television, internet, and radio influence what we think about a lot of the NFL. Sure, we might have separate opinions about other teams because of our different views, but those opinions are, for the most part, still similar because the information was brought to you and was discussed by the sports media. After hearing the news your thoughts about it are immediately influenced by the next thing you read, see, or hear about it. Once a news story comes up on ESPN you learn what has happened and then read about what impact the writer thinks it will have on that team or player. Whether the writer is right or not, you begin to be strongly influenced by what they just said. The same goes for television and radio. You hear the news and instantly you can hear the reaction by analysts and experts. While you may not completely agree with them, they have an influence on what you think about the news.

Combining Winning and Sports Media into Public Perception

Now, how do winning and sports media marry to form public perception? Think of it like this. You look at the previous year's win-loss record for a team. That sets the bar for the current year. From that mark set by last year a team can do three things. They can go up, go down, or remain the same. Sports media is what helps us decide what result a team will have. The sports media drives public perception to decide which direction a team is going.

Just look at the Buffalo Bills. Last year they went 6-10, but because of a few moves they are perceived by most analysts and writers to be on their way up. So, what do those analysts and writers do? Their jobs, of course. They write about it. They go on TV and the radio and they talk about it. They think the Bills are going to make the playoffs this year, so they make sure that the world knows about it. And when everyone hears these analysts predicting the same thing they assume that it must be right. If enough of these experts think the same thing is going to happen then it has to be a foregone conclusion, right? Not necessarily. Football (and sports in general) is unpredictable, and it is unfair to any team to pretend to already know their fate before opening kickoff.

Now that I have gotten that extraordinarily long introduction out of the way I will move to how this affects the Miami Dolphins. But first, a side note. Please know that I am not condemning the sports media or those who work in the field. They are where they are because of hard work and the knowledge and experience that the common sports fan doesn't have. They are what make everything outside of the game so much better. I am simply explaining how much affect they have on public perception.

The Perception of the Miami Dolphins

As we all know, the current perception of the Miami Dolphins isn't great. Why should it be? They finished 6-10 last year. They've gone through a million different quarterbacks trying to find the next Dan Marino. They traded away their top receiver and have replaced him with a bunch of young guys and a 34-year old who had less catches than Ted Ginn Jr. last year. They don't know who their starting quarterback is. The quarterback they drafted eighth overall in this year's draft is third on the depth chart.

The "problems" that I just listed off are all that the public pays attention to. Why? Because that's all that the sports media gives them. All they hear about is why Miami won't be good. They don't hear that Miami has plenty of playmakers that have really been performing at running back and tight end to make up for the supposed poor receiving corps. They don't hear that new Head Coach Joe Philbin and new Offensive Coordinator Mike Sherman's new offense doesn't need a true number one receiver. They don't hear about the Dolphins great defense only getting better because of the draft. They don't hear about the young guys who are developing into true starters. They don't hear that Miami has a really easy schedule. They don't hear that David Garrard (who will be the starter in Miami) has a career passer rating of 85.8 and fits perfectly in the new offense. All they hear are the negatives.

Do I think that the sports media is conspiring against the Dolphins? Not at all. They just don't think the Dolphins will be good this year, and that's fine. They are entitled to their opinion and I'm sure they did their research. That doesn't mean that they are right though. The problem is that once they've decided that they think the team won't be good they provide all the reasons why to help their argument and don't mention why the team could possibly do well. Because of this it is important for people to look at the team and formulate their own opinions. We need to stop just blindly following what other people say and we need to study on our own and determine what we think without others influencing us, because experts are actually wrong sometimes. They don't have a crystal ball that tells them what is going to happen. They have a brain just like you and I, and they can be wrong, too.


Last year was a perfect example of that. Two teams on opposite ends of the spectrum of public perception performed radically different than anyone expected them to: the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers. Everyone thought that the Eagles were bound to make a deep run in the playoffs. They made the big offseason acquisitions. They had the most explosive offense with the most electrifying quarterback in the NFL. They were the "dream team", and no one was going to stop them. Too bad that wasn't the case. Too bad injuries and underachievement got in their way. All of the hype and attention they got was overblown. They finished the year 8-8 and missed the playoffs. All the while, the San Francisco 49ers, led by a rookie NFL head coach and an apparently washed-up quarterback, went 13-3 and were a muffed punt away from making it to the Super Bowl.

Public perception had it all wrong with both San Francisco and Philadelphia. They both did pretty much the exact opposite of what they were expected to do. The NFL is unpredictable, and we tend to forget that sometimes. Teams like the 49ers and New York Giants and make it a lot farther than they were supposed to, while teams like the Eagles can fall flat on their faces way short of their expectations.

So What Does This Mean?

The point I am trying to make is this: it does not matter how many analysts think the Miami Dolphins will finish in the cellar of the AFC East. It doesn't even matter if they think the Bills and Patriots will both make the playoffs leaving no room for the Dolphins. Everyone's record is still 0-0, and everything leading up to the September 9th season opener in Houston is just a bunch of talk and speculation.

Here's something else that may surprise you. Most of you hardcore fans actually know more about the Dolphins than most of the NFL media. With the exception of local media and those who are paid to focus specifically on Miami, you probably know more players and more about the players than writers for ESPN, Yahoo, and whoever else. I'm not saying that that is because people at ESPN and Yahoo aren't doing their job. It's because they have 32 teams to cover. They can't know as much as you do because they also have to pay attention to the other 31 teams in the league. If they devoted the amount of time to the Dolphins that you guys devote they wouldn't be able to cover any other teams.

No reporter (outside of the local and Dolphin-focused ones, of course) can truly know the ins and outs of a team to accurately predict who will perform well and who won't. They can only look at the team's surroundings and the main parts of that team. They would be neglecting their jobs if they only looked at one team and ignored the others.

Basically, what I am trying to get at is that experts might not necessarily have the whole picture. They are looking at the pictures of every team in the NFL from a distance. They can see the main parts of the picture, but they can't see all the little details and inner-workings on the picture. They can't see that Charles Clay and Anthony Fasano have been really showing out. They can't see that Reshad Jones is starting to look like a bona fide starter at safety or that Jared Odrick has been looking great rushing the passer opposite of Cam Wake. They're only focusing on quarterback and how Ryan Tannehill is on the bottom of the depth chart, which is only because he needs time (even though they don't see it that way).

So, as I come to a conclusion, I urge everyone to form your own opinion through research and observation instead of just what you hear the sports world saying. You may get laughed at after saying something that might be unconventional, but what does it matter? As long as you have truly done your homework you can say whatever you believe. This is football where anything can happen, and anyone who says differently is wrong.

Thank you for stopping by. I know this was a long post, but I hope you guys enjoyed it as much as I did. As always, I'm open for discussion and input. Feel free to email me at and follow me on twitter @PaulDSmythe.