- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It's not exactly going out on a limb to say it's never a good thing for any NFL coach -- not just Jets' bon vivant Rex Ryan -- to wake up as he did Wednesday and find himself the subject of an Internet story headlined, "This May or May Not Be Rex Ryan's Wife Making Foot Fetish Videos," and a similar story on the front page of the New York Daily News. Cue up the Manolo Blahnik jokes and add this to the litany of absurdities that continue to erupt around Ryan's Jets.
Is it just me, or is Deadspin.com -- which posted five videos, one of which seemed to include Ryan's voice -- quickly becoming the WikiLeaks of sports?
And when do we start acknowledging that whoever thought up the cell phone camera feature is quickly becoming the J. Robert Oppenheimer of our social-media crazed generation?
How many more public figures in the sports division alone are going to see their reputations blown up by homemade videos or embarrassing still photos of themselves besides former Jets quarterback Brett Favre, whom the NFL has been investigating for sexting a former Jets employee, and now Ryan and his wife Michelle, who have been married 23 years? When does everyone wise up and decide maybe some things should remain their little secret rather than, say, e-mailed or posted as online videos or described in morbid detail in a personal profile on a swinger site?
The jokes about the Ryans had already been flying around for hours by the time Rex, looking clearly uncomfortable and at times shaken, appeared at his media conference shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Jets' practice facility. He repeatedly said, "I hope you understand, this is a personal matter and I'd rather not discuss it" when the questions started flying at him right off the bat.
"Mr. Ryan, did you and your wife make the foot fetish videos?" ...
"Do you know how these videos got into public hands?" ...
Then, after a lot of stonewalling by Ryan, this gem from a TV reporter: "I just think a lot of people -- if this is your wife in the paper -- a lot of people have commented 'It's his wife, it's kinda cool that he has a fetish for his wife's feet.'" What "people"? The reporter didn't say. But maybe she was quoting the Deadspin writer who wrote if Ryan digs his wife's feet: "This s--- is kinda romantic."
When asked if he still had the support of Jets management, Ryan's voice fell and he stammered and croaked that he hoped so. A couple of hours later, Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum issued a statement saying he and Jets owner Woody Johnson met with Ryan and concluded, "This is a personal matter, and he has our full support."
Johnson was already planning to meet with reporters Thursday about Tripgate -- strength coach Sal Alosi's sideline stunt two weeks ago against Miami's Nolan Carroll -- before Footgate broke.
Earlier this year, Ryan was fined $50,000 by the NFL for flipping off a fan who heckled him at a mixed martial arts event held during Super Bowl week near Miami. He and secondary coach Dennis Thurman were among those questioned about joining in some Jets players' taunting of Mexican TV reporter Ines Sainz before Johnson apologized on behalf of the organization and agreed to fund a league sensitivity training program for players.
Ryan's own mother, a former college dean, publicly expressed disappointment about his F-bombs in the HBO reality show, "Hard Knocks." In September, Jets receiver Braylon Edwards was arrested and charged with a DUI.
Next to all that, Ryan's bragging that he refuses to kiss Bill Belichick's rings or writing "Soon to be Super Bowl champs" on a bus seem tame.
When the Jets were smacked down by New England 45-3 three weeks ago, that was just seen as embarrassing. Now their entire organization again looks like a laughingstock.
It will be interesting to see what Woody Johnson says about Ryan's job security on Thursday.
Even non-football fans know Ryan's name now -- and not for good reasons.
By mid-morning in New York, and on the Internet, in offices and barber shops and later sports bars around the country, the reaction to Ryan's latest troubles ranged from sidesplitting laughter to ridicule to "Let's not judge him" and "Who cares what he and his wife do?"
At this point, it's immaterial for the football-first crowd to ask how Ryan could bring yet another embarrassment down on the Jets when they're already fighting the competing pressures of knowing franchise quarterback Mark Sanchez has a hurt throwing shoulder, lead receiver Santonio Holmes didn't practice Wednesday because of turf toe (don't laugh!), and the team still needs a win Sunday against Chicago Bears or next week against Buffalo just to get into the playoffs.
The answer is the same thing it usually is when stuff like this happens: No one ever thinks they'll get caught. And the reaction of the Jets' players to yet another self-inflicted distraction was predictable too: They said they'll be ready for Chicago anyway.
"This ain't my first rodeo," linebacker Bart Scott said.
"I feel like our team plays its best when we're backed against the wall," quarterback Mark Sanchez added.
"We're used to [distractions]," cornerback Darrelle Revis agreed.
Just not exactly foot fetishes? Until now, Ryan's wife was mostly known as someone he mentioned at his introductory Jets media conference by joking he "out-kicked the coverage" when he was lucky enough to marry her, and she was the woman featured in a magazine photo he held up the week the Jets played the Patriots while joking that he, like Tom Brady, was married to a supermodel.
It was pretty funny then. Now? Not so much.
"I don't want to say I probably shouldn't have done that," Ryan said Wednesday, almost in a whisper.
Like a lot of things surrounding Ryan -- and by extension the Jets -- the regrets come too late.
Like a lot of things surrounding Rex Ryan, the regrets come too late.