Shots fired! What happened on Friday has sparked a lot of reaction as well as controversy. By now everyone is aware of the press conference Fiorentina hosted, which turned into a war of words between Rocco Commisso and many of the journalists online. Watching it live at 6:00am in the states I felt confused and at times, mortified. I saw Rocco attack legendary Florentine journalists Mario Tenerani and Luca Calamai, both of which have always been pro-Rocco and everything he does. Rocco got increasingly angry with Sandro Bennucci, President of Assostampa Toscana Ndr, at one point cutting him off completely. I felt a sense of shock as I messaged back and forth with several journalist friends who were on that call. I still don’t believe Rocco believes Mario and Luca are part of the problem, I fear they are just collateral damage in it the problem being exposed.
After the call and after reading many of the fan reactions I found myself asking if my instant reaction was the right one. I wanted to dive a little deeper into Rocco’s anger with a focus on the reasons why.
Platform and Approach
We have seen our reader’s thoughts and we know the opinions of our readers is as varied as the countries we all come from – UK, China, Israel, France, Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Japan, India, Argentina, etc. The professionalism of journalists (or lack thereof) certainly varies, as do expectations for our journalists, so let us start there.
On Friday, Rocco took the opportunity to attack a group of journalists or defend his team, family, and himself (depending upon your perspective) during a pre-scheduled press conference. He surprisingly and repeatedly called out journalist after journalist, publication after publication as they asked questions pertaining to the club and its decisions. There was a tremendous amount of anger coming from Rocco, anger that we have not yet witnessed from him since he took over as Fiorentina owner. But was his anger directed in the right direction? Simply put. No. Rocco made a mistake in choosing to white label the journalists on the call as ones who have personally attacked him and his family, and then alienated himself from the Tuscan Press Association. Rocco did cite specific examples, but still lumped friends in with foe.
Many of those who found themselves feeling the brunt of Rocco’s criticisms on Friday weren’t the ones who were the offenders. I have been to these press conferences (when they were held in person, prior to the virtual ones during Covid). It is mostly full of local, very good journalists like Mario Tenerani, and our friends at reputable sites like Fiorentinanews.com, Fiorentina.it and Violanews.com. These are people who are fans of the club, who mainly come from Firenze or neighboring communes and ones who have a deep appreciation for what Rocco is trying to do, even if they may disagree with the decisions made in how the team will execute. These journalists from Firenze proudly wear the categorization of being overly passionate and critical as a badge of honor. Being from Firenze, that is part of who they are, but I have always found this group to be fair.
Issues at Hand
A day after the press conference, Fiorentina and Rocco Commisso released a video clarifying many of the comments made on Friday as well as providing some context towards the anger and frustration that came through in the emboldened comments made by Rocco. Had this information been made available by Fiorentina a day earlier would this have changed your opinion on what happened? Let’s see.
In the past we have called out many of the shock journalism stories that has been out there. Let’s go back to the media movement to push out Beppe and build a swell of fan fervor against him. On many occasions we talked about these rumors not being true in stories and on our podcast. Sarri was never in ongoing conversations with us. He was never negotiating a buy out with Juve to immediately move to Fiorentina. As a result of this false news (I will never call it fake news), the pressure put on the players, Beppe and Fiorentina leadership grew unnecessarily.
Let’s flash forward. Fiorentina hired Cesare Prandelli, who deserves an equal amount of praise for where the team sits today, above relegation. While Cesare was curiously left out of Rocco’s praise on Friday, Rocco did heap a ton of it towards Beppe. We now know how the story finished. Cesare had left his position and Beppe returned, seeing through Fiorentina’s salvation. But the trail of information doesn’t stop there.
During these past few days there has been an influx of information that has immerged following Roccos’s press conference, information that must be taken into consideration to truly understand the reason why Friday’s press conference happened. I have cited many, very reputable sources of information above that you can trust for your information. However, I refuse to cite any of the sources of ill repute that have purposefully and repeatedly accosted Rocco. They deserve no mention here, giving them more publicity.
- On many occasions, multiple publications have published stories about Rocco referencing connections (without any merit) to the American mafia and him being a gangster. Rocco is a man who has worked very hard to change the perception of Italian Americans in the United States and around the globe, having worked a lot with the National Italian American Foundation and the National Italian Americans Sports Hall of Fame. For him to face this type of bigoted vitriol from his birth country has been extremely offensive, both to his character and to his accomplishments.
- Joe Barone has faced stereotypes by Italian media as well as his peers inside of Serie A while trying to get a seat on their governing board. Having been turned down twice, it has been mentioned the reason why he has been turned down is that he isn’t “enough Italian” coming from America. Some have criticized the way he speaks, which isn’t surprising coming from those who have criticized Rocco on many occasions for needing support during his press conferences. The big difference is that Joe is a very good Italian speaker. He needs no help nor support. These criticisms refer instead to the way he speaks; certain words he uses and his accent, being that his family is from Sicily and he was raised in the United States where he learned his Italian.
- Several media outlets have many times referred to Rocco as Italy’s American Uncle, Rocco Benito and for another phrase which I can loosely translate to as “an enriched southerner”, referring once again to the idea that those from southern Italy are regarded as less.
- The Della Valle were criticized many times for not caring enough, not being present and not being available to the fans and media. Rocco has faced much criticism for months by Italian media for doing too many interviews, being to available to the fans. Some have called him an American glory hound, casting shadows as to the motivation of his ownership and engagement with fans.
- Following Rocco’s press conference, an article by Andrea di Caro was posted in the Gazzetta dello Sport (I refuse to link it). In the article Andrea continues to characterize Rocco as an Italian-American gangster – “but this Don Rocco more than from a great gangster movie by Coppola or Scorsese seems to come out of an Italian “policeman” film of the B series. clumsy accusations, surreal plots.”
- Antonio Cincotta spoke during yesterday’s post-game press conference and dealt directly with the false information that has been published across Italy regarding his job for next year. Antonio stated in very simple terms that Fiorentina has not interviewed any other coaches, nor has he interviewed with any other teams and that his status will be discussed once this season ends, like last year.
- In a private post-game conversation that I had with Antonio yesterday he again mentioned the frustrations he has in dealing with false news that has spread around Italy by several national publications. He empathized with what Rocco has been through and gave his full support saying enough is enough. He also strongly stated his desire to remain with Fiorentina. I will comment further in a separate article.
- In the press conference there was also a reference to personal attacks on Rocco’s family and his father directly. I could not find anything specifically targeting his family except for a few publications not being very kind to his son, Joseph Commisso. Following a Fiorentina party, Joseph joined a celebration of fans in the street singing. Unbeknownst to him, the song sung by fans included some vulgarity and Fiorentina had to clarify the next day that as Joseph is still learning the Italian language he didn’t understand it’s meaning. (That makes two of us Joseph!) I have reached out to the club to see if I could get more clarity on other issues mentioned here.
- Finally, I have learned that on many occasions Fiorentina has reached out individually to the different media outlets that had said or published such vitriol, requesting a meeting to discuss it only to be told that they decline to meet with Fiorentina or its representatives. They would repeat making their comments.
The words said and the articles printed are reprehensible and Rocco has every right to condemn them. Rocco has never been one to mince words. It has been almost two years since Rocco Commisso released his statement through ViolaNation, condemning the racist comments aimed towards Dalbert at Atalanta as well as condemning his own ultras for their racist comments towards southern Italians. Rocco was widely heralded for being one of the only owners or executives inside of Serie A willing to take a stand against these offensive and morose fans.
Clearly, dissecting this press conference is not that cut and dry. Rocco has more than one reason to be upset with many in the media. We live in a world now where this type of stereotyping and treatment is not acceptable no matter what. Had his message been delivered differently and focused on those offenders, I would venture a near guaranteed guess that most if not all of the good and fair journalists on that call would have fully supported Rocco and would agree that he deserves better. So, what is this issue? Why is this not black and white?
I had the same knee jerk reaction that many did. This had the feeling of being deliberate and staged and it was surely brash in its approach to dealing with a very important subject matter, but it did deal with something that needed to be dealt with; something that has been festering and treated as acceptable for far too long now. Rocco still should have separated those who do a good job from those who do not. I would imagine this is why Sandro Bennucci was so offended and mad, and probably still is. “His guys” were lumped in with “those guys”. *I will be honest here though; I do not know for sure if anyone in his association are or are not part of the offending group. From what I have gathered, most of those people belong to more national publications. This will require further digging.
I am not a peer of these great journalists, but as a friend to some of them, I hope they do get clarification from the club and an apology, mending many of the fences that have been broken along the way. While I am hopeful the relationship between the good media and Fiorentina can be mended, I do have one greater concern, one unexpected result of the press conference.
Don’t Split the Fan Base
The reaction to the press conference was as polarizing as the conference itself. Monitoring social media during and since the press conference I found the fan base is split. Some were extremely offended and disappointed in the approach Rocco took, others applauded Rocco for standing up against a shameful display of deliberately offensive and false journalism, something many have been sick of for some time now. This split does not help us though.
I didn’t grow up a Fiorentina fan. My family is of Irish decent. I didn’t go to university in Florence. I played soccer for one summer as a chubby seven-year-old boy only to realize my talents were better suited when I had a huddle in between my sprints, allowing me to rest my hands on my knees to catch my breath. However, I know that Fiorentina’s strength doesn’t come in numbers, in fact it comes in the quality and solidarity of its fan base. While I disagree with the approach Rocco took and who part of his anger was directed towards, the repeated nature of the abuse directed towards him and Fiorentina justifies his actions in my opinion. At some point enough must be enough, and yes, that is true even for an uber-successful billionaire and his family.
There has been no time in the recent past that I can remember where our club is in more need of a galvanized support. Not only for the club but its players, staff and of course, its very opinionated but gracious owner who takes no shit. This article isn’t to tell you that either response is the way you should think, hell I pointed out two wrongs and a right. It just so happens that the right is so glaringly alarming and in need of being addressed. The research done was to point out that like many things that take place in these modern times, things aren’t always what they look like on the surface. You need to peek under the covers and behind doors to uncover the real issues, and in this case, there are many real issues there.