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Malik McDowell doesn’t need your lecture

NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

One of the saddest ideas to me is that for some, people like Malik McDowell only exist in their world so that they can feel self-righteous that they would’ve done better than him. See, if McDowell had gotten onto the field and played poorly, nobody watching from the sidelines could reasonably say, “I could’ve done better.” Because McDowell is still better at football than 99.9% of people. But when McDowell got onto an ATV last summer — which is well within his rights — and the near-worst case scenario happened, suddenly a large group of non-football players saw their opportunity to say, “I could’ve done better.”

“I wouldn’t have gotten on that ATV.”

“I would have been in the gym!”

“I would have been up at 4 AM, at the gym by 6 AM, in the film room at 11 AM, and in bed by 3 PM.”

“I would have never had fun if my NFL dream had been realized.”

Of course, either McDowell or the media or both did no favors for the young man (he was 20 years old when last year’s draft happened) by spotlighting his one red flag up to the draft: that he may lack care and motivation. This isn’t exactly the premise of an episode of Black Mirror, the idea that a person who was a teenager as recently as 2016 might be immature. McDowell’s red flag was not that he was an abuser, a drug addict, a thief, or a steroid user. It was that he lacked hustle. Or as an anonymous scout said on his Draft Profile, “He’s just a little lazy and I worry about whether he is going to be a self-starter.”

This is the person that many have thrown under the bus for being a “waste.” This is the player that many have implied “got what was coming to him” based on his negative pre-draft press because he may have stopped trying as hard during his last season at Michigan State while he was dealing with an ankle injury.

And that “got what was coming to him” was that a person who was just coming off of their 21st birthday got onto an all-terrain vehicle, a decision that has been made by millions of people hundreds of millions of times without incident. Not that riding an ATV is “relatively safe” because it isn’t, but the vastly more common outcome to a person getting on an ATV is that we will never know about it.

Some see the ATV accident as “inevitable punishment” for McDowell being what they perceive to be as a “careless football prospect” but that punishment already came in the form of the draft. Yes, McDowell was already punished for being a “careless football prospect” when he was drafted 35th overall, in the second round, and not in the top 10. Were it not for the “He’s just a little lazy” tag he received, McDowell had all the talent necessary to go in the top 10, if not the top five. His comps were guys like Ezekiel Ansah and Mario Williams. But he was “just a little lazy” and maybe “not a self-starter.”

And maybe that is good enough to hurt your draft stock and move you out of the much-more-profitable-and-safe first round, but then let that register to you that McDowell was already punished for his laziness. He doesn’t need — nobody needs — to hear or read ongoing lectures (or even short tweets) about why his perceived immaturity, laziness, and carelessness may have cost him a chance at a long and lucrative NFL career.

I think he understands that, if it even applies. Let’s not drop the fact that the inciting incident was: riding an ATV.

“Our guys aren’t scared. We don’t want them to be afraid of what’s going wrong — we want them to go enjoy their lives,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said in an interview with The Ringer. “Jimmy Graham is in fighter jets, whatever. I don’t even want to put the thought in their heads of ‘Don’t do that, we don’t want you to get hurt.’”

That’s a quote from Pete Carroll posted a year before McDowell’s ATV accident. That’s what the Seahawks’ head coach said publicly about his players’ rights to “enjoy their lives” and to not be afraid. Read that last sentence again: “I don’t even want to put the thought in their heads of ‘Don’t do that, we don’t want you to get hurt.”

McDowell was 19 years old when that quote came out. Carroll was 64. If you can’t trust the 19-year-old to make the right decision, can you at least agree that he’s following in line with the exact sentiment given from a head coach who is old enough to be his grandfather?

The Seattle organization did not want for players to think that the team was worried about them getting hurt if they wanted to enjoy their lives with “extreme” fun. McDowell rode an ATV. I mean, I don’t know anything about extreme sports because you’d more likely find me at “The Mundane Games” but even I know that an ATV has four wheels, not two, and that seems like double the safety. It’s not “fighter jets, whatever.” And even if it was, the now 66-year-old head coach says that’s okay. That if you get hurt, the organization won’t blame you for it. If they supported you to participate in the activity, then certainly they should support you if you do get hurt.

That’s the sentiment that the patriarch of the franchise delivered unto his players. Now, I don’t know if they’re following up on that if they do indeed release McDowell, but one can imagine that a release means that he is even more unlikely to ever play football again. The tragedy isn’t that the Seahawks “wasted” a second round draft pick, it’s that a young person with a lot of promise may never get the opportunity to realize that promise because of an accident.

The next step isn’t, “Okay, then how much money do the Seahawks get to recoup from this?” — even if that does become a consideration — it’s, “How difficult has McDowell’s life been for the last year and how difficult is the road ahead?”

“How can we help this person who was “enjoying his life” like his head coach encouraged his players to do?”

Don’t tag it with, “Yeah, but, he wasn’t a self-starter in college, so he deserves this” because he already paid for that. Don’t bother with, “Seattle wasted their second round pick on him” because plenty of players taken in that range have a net value close to zero and McDowell carried the high-ceiling, low-floor outcome that has delivered some of the NFL’s greatest players. All players carry some level of risk and were it not for a single moment on an ATV while doing something that Carroll, were he to be called on the phone beforehand by McDowell and asked “Can I do this?” would’ve said (if true to the quote above) “What are you even asking me for?”, McDowell could’ve been one of the top defensive rookies in 2017.

The Seahawks seem to be a smart organization, so I don’t imagine that they’ll start scratching names off of their board this week because that player is a little more likely to have an accident. Or fly a fighter jet, whatever.

Malik McDowell is not your opportunity to be self-righteous. His ATV accident is not your chance to tell others, “I told you so!” He is not a warning to other Seattle rookies, “Don’t do anything with your free time, lest the McDowell boogeyman’ll come and get ya.” He is a 21-year-old who last year fractured his skull, suffered a concussion, and was so injured that maybe the team will have to give up on him despite his low salary and the fact that they really gain nothing other than a roster spot by doing so. That’s a terrible sign for McDowell’s future, and not at all the right time to keep saying, “Well, I wouldn’t have done that.”

How do any of us know what we would have done? We don’t. Because most of us are not even 1/10th the athlete and football talent that McDowell is, and just the fact that he’s not playing at all is tragic enough.