What We Know Now: The NFL May Have a Problem Much More Serious Than Bullying‏

This weekend I am wrapping up a piece for East End Philadelphia for my “Deep Six” series of columns.  One of the things that I mentioned is the overuse of the term “bullying” in the media and how that word has been misapplied to a lot of things in modern life, and recently the NFL has gone through an issue where a guy accused a teammate of such things.

The issue that I am speaking of would be the Richie Incognito story, and thankfully it has disappeared quickly for the time being.  I have this feeling that the NFL is going to wait to release their findings until after the season is over so as not to distract the fans from the playoffs which are going to be awesome this year.  And I had thought in my mind that we were done hearing about bullying in the NFL for the time being… But I was wrong.

So I wake up Thursday morning to this story that former Eagles tackle Shawn Andrews said in a recent interview that Donovan McNabb had bullied him during his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles.  Apparently there was a lot of talk about Andrews possibly being a homosexual (amongst other stuff as well) and it was perpetrated by a lot of the guys who were close friends with McNabb on the team.

Now, like I said I thought that in 2013 we were done with this.  I thought that there was enough of a backlash about this from both ends of the Dolphins story that we weren’t going to hear any more bullying discussion in pro football this year.  I thought enough players saw the backlash on the outside when it came to Incognito that they would take it back a notch if they were engaging in anything that resembled that activity.  And I also assumed that there was so much support FOR Incognito that anyone who even thought about handling things in the manner that Jonathan Martin did would think twice before he ostracized himself out of the NFL.

This situation is a little different because in this case the man who spoke up doesn’t play football anymore, but it still is a cause for alarm because it’s NFL-related.  But to me, it’s not just the accusations, it’s who the accusations are against.

Donovan McNabb?  He seems like the last guy that would be at the heart of this story.  I just think it’s so bizarre that a guy who was widely known around the league for being kind of soft finds himself being accused of this.  You could even make the argument that McNabb is probably a much better analyst than he was a football player.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a pussy, but I think when it comes down to it he’s hardly one of the more rugged players that have played that position over the past twenty years.

Before we go any further here, I’d like to share an exerpt from that interview with Andrews.

“[McNabb] was a big part of it — he was a big part of my issues there. Bully is a strong word, but he was degrading to me and spread rumors. It’s bothered me that I haven’t really spoken about it.”

Okay, first things first – about the whole “Bully is a strong word” thing.  No, it isn’t.  The way the media has been tossing around that term over the past year make it lose a great deal of its edge, and a grown man that played professional football in the NFL shouldn’t think that it is a strong word.  At the risk of sounding a bit insensitive, I personally don’t think that an NFL locker room creates a situation where guys should feel like bullying is a strong word.  It’s a very violent sport and as a result of that you’re going to come across things within that work environment that are much harsher than in others.  To me, bullying is something that makes your work or school life crippling to the point where you can’t focus on basic tasks.  In an NFL locker room, I always thought that the coaches would be doing a better job to make sure that type of thing never got too out of hand, but at the same time that it would be expected to be a more hostile work environment than if you worked in an office supplies store.

So here is the major problem that the NFL faces as a result of this:  Now the most violent sport in the league has an image problem, and it’s not what you think.  It isn’t concussions, it’s not care of the players after they retire, it isn’t street drug abuse.  It isn’t prescription drug abuse as a result of the treatment of concussions and how they affect other players.  In fact, it could be something much worse than that.

It’s that this one mighty league full of warriors has been reduced (by the aid of the media) to an environment where guys feel the need to alert the media when they believe their feelings have been hurt.  And in pro sports, that’s a problem.  In the NFL, it’s catastrophic.

It’s not like being in an a capella group.  This isn’t the other four members of Pentatonix talking shit about the guy with the blonde hair…this is a group of professional athletes who are paid to beat the tar out of each other on a weekly basis and then NOT share their feelings with us.  Whether you admit it or not, we don’t want our American Football players to be soft like Jonathan Martin.  We want them to be brutal killing machines like Bronco Nagurski or Dick Butkus, not whoever is playing drums in Depeche Mode this week.

This episode of "Blue Thunder" also featured Bubba Smith

This episode of “Blue Thunder” also featured Bubba Smith

So when we hear of a guy who might have bullied a former teammate, we expect it to be one of those tough guys we just mentioned.  And we don’t necessarily assume that it is mean spirited in nature, just that it goes on.  Returning to D-Mac…

In an interview with Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Mike Sielski, McNabb said, “That is ridiculous. I don’t know what comments you expect to get from me, but that is news to me and completely false. For me to bully anybody, that sounds unbelievable. …”

Now that I do believe.  Not just because I can’t see him having the balls to even do it, but also because he is Donovan McNabb, and if the locker room is such a rough and tumble place why the fuck didn’t somebody just haul off and shove him if that individual felt he was insulting their sexual orientation?  Am I out of line to expect this to be a kneejerk reaction amonst testosterone freaks whenever this comes up?  Where is Albert Belle when we need him?

And that’s precisely where the problem comes in.  Not that bullying itself is an issue but that when guys like Donovan McNabb are accused of it, it loses a little bit of the air in the story.  It makes everything and everybody involved look so flaccid and pathetic that you almost forget that this is the gridiron game that we grew up learning to love.

Keep in mind, I’m not condoning any of this behavior, but I do think it’s mislabeled.  This seems like the millionth time that I’ve tried to explain that not everything is bullying, and it’s only been your resident bullshit buzzword in the sports world for a little over a month.  But the NFL is looking at a much bigger issue in the fact that it may be turning into a game where guys don’t settle it on the field anymore.  It’s a league that is becoming full of a lot of shit talking behind each other’s backs, be it on Twitter DM, text messages, or if you’re a grown man that still thinks it’s acceptable to leave voicemails and get tribal tattoos, Richie Incognito.

And I’m not sure that’s why I started watching the NFL in the first place.

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