Let's make this clear up front: if Jets coach Rex Ryan—about as normal and forthcoming a guy as you'll find in the NFL—really harbors some strange foot fetish, then Bill Belichick is probably into some of the nastiest, most bizarre sexual interplay you could ever imagine.
Having said that, we should probably focus on the recent report from sports' version of Wikileaks, Deadspin, which claims to have proof that Rex Ryan and his wife, Michelle, are avid foot fetishists. What does this mean?
Rex, for his part, had this to say: "I know you need to ask, [but] it's a personal matter." Okay, but really: What does this mean? After the jump, let's answer a few questions.
What is a foot fetish? That's like, a real thing?
Yes it's totally a real thing. There are websites and everything! And according to Wikipedia, foot fetishism is characterized by "a pronounced sexual interest in the feet or footwear. ... For a foot fetishist, points of attraction include the shape and size of the foot and toes (e.g., long toes, short toes, painted toes, high arches, slender soles, fat toes, long toenails, short toenails, small feet, toenail color, etc), jewelry, toe rings, ankle bracelets, treatments e.g. French pedicure, state of dress (e.g., barefoot, flip flops, high heels, ballet flats, or clad in socks or nylons), odor, and any form of sensory interaction, e.g. licking, kissing, sucking toes, tickling, person giving foot jobs, or trampling/stomping and shoeplay., socks sniffing, socks licking can also be included in the list."
Who's up for some "trampling/stomping and shoeplay" with Big Rex!
What's Deadspin's proof?
It began with a series of videos on a foot fetishist dating website. The videos have since been removed, but remain hosted over at Deadspin. The woman in the videos bears a striking resemblance to Rex's wife, Michelle Ryan, who's pictured with Rex here:
That's it? Some lady in foot fetish videos looks like Rex Ryan's wife?
Well, there's also the details, which match up almost perfectly:
She lists her location as Ellicott City, Md. When Rex Ryan was an assistant coach with the Ravens, his profile on the official team city had him living with his family in Ellicott City, Md. Michelle Ryan was born in August 1963, a Virgo. "ihaveprettyfeet" lists herself as a Virgo. Michelle Ryan taught high school English before retiring to raise her kids; "ihaveprettyfeet" has a graduate degree, is married with kids, and lists herself as a homemaker. Michelle Ryan once said that, in heels, she was "a foot [shorter]" than her 6'4" husband; "ihaveprettyfeet" lists herself as 5'2".
In addition to the personal details above, there's plenty of other circumstantial evidence that ties the videos (and various dating profiles) to the Ryan family. So, yeah: It seems like this is true.
So could Roger Goodell suspend Rex Ryan for this?
Of course not. There's nothing remotely illegal, or even particularly illicit, about a having a foot fetish, or making videos that showcase your wife's feet. Weird, yes. But everyone's weird in one way or another. (Note: This is not my way of admitting to a foot fetish).
Then why should we care? Why was anyone investigating it? Why are we talking about it?
A very good question, and one without clear answers. We've been down this road before with Deadspin, but this time feels a little different. It's one thing to expose Brett Favre's alleged sexual harassment of a team employee; he's a public figure that's capitalized tremendously on his values and presumed virtues. If he's not the guy he portrays himself as to millions of Americans, then that's news. Plus, he deserves it. Guys that consciously put women in uncomfortable positions should be exposed. If the women won't step forward themselves, then Deadspin may as well.
But Brett's deviance affected other people; that's why he was fair game.
This foot fetish thing is something that exists between two married adults whose marriage appears perfectly happy, and who have successfully raised two sons. Shouldn't we be a little concerned that someone thought it was a good idea to dig through old dating profiles and YouTube archives just to corroborate a story that was embarrassing to them, but irrelevant to the rest of us?
In any case, it'll make headlines all over the internet, and soon, the mainstream press. It's a story now, because Deadspin decided it was, and even if people begin reporting on it just to say that they refuse to officially report on it, we'll be talking about it. Rex knows that, hence the statement today. And by all means, this is completely hilarious, and foot fetish jokes are fair game from here on out. I'm sure Rex will find a way to roll with it, himself.
Ms. Ryan and her kids probably don't think it's that funny, though, and they could be forgiven for asking why they're the ones at the center of this storm, and why this is relevant to the public. But the internet doesn't ask those questions, and in a media age where eyeballs are the greatest currency, the line between voyeurism and journalism is more blurred than ever.
And that's how we all end up staring intensely at the screen, e-mailing each other pictures of Brett Favre's penis or scrutinizing Michelle Ryan's feet. Just like the people we're supposedly "exposing".