Some may say that general managers in the NFL have it rough. Their job security largely depends on their ability to predict a 21-year-old’s ability to best others in athletic contests over the next decade. However, it’s not the draft that gives GMs the greatest pause. It’s not the playoffs that has them sweating, not really. Even opening day doesn’t create as much anxiety as the season we now live in – down time.
Mid-June to late-July represents the NFL equivalent of waiting in the doctor’s office for the test results of that rash you’ve got. Not only are you bored, but if the doctor has anything really interesting to say, it’s not good. These are the times when terrible things can happen. And for the most part, there isn’t really anything the coaches can do. Professional athletes are adults – at least legally – with money and means of transportation.
We of the Pacific Northwest are only two years removed from a 2017 offseason dominated by talk of Malik McDowell. We’ve covered it at Field Gulls several times, and with his recent and somewhat convoluted defense the story is pretty well exhausted. But it is undeniably the most unique event of the past three offseasons and one of the more significant summer injuries in Seattle’s history.
It also serves as a helpful explanation to a phenomenon almost exclusive to the sports world. Offseason stories are a dime a dozen, and they also run the gamut from unbelievable to buried in mystery.
There’s a reason for this. Somewhere, in every human heart, there exists a dollar amount – the point at which money is more valuable than saving face. When dealing with millions, athletes have been known to fabricate a story – far more embarrassing than the truth, in order to avoid breach of contract. The CBA of most sports is pretty straightforward, and non-sport injuries are very bad news. When the cover story fails – see below – that’s when details get murky, and we the fans are left wondering what really happened.
The catalyst for this article comes from the first time I learned that money makes grown men do strange things. Exhibit A: Jeff Kent of the San Francisco Giants, 2002, another preseason injury.
What he said: he fell off his truck while washing it.
What he did: fell off his motorcycle while doing wheelies.
What he really did: fell off the motorcycle first, then fell off his truck at a public car wash to attempt securing an alibi.
Kent broke his wrist in the failed stunt, but only missed four games of the regular season by the time it came around. The Giants did not go after Kent’s paycheck.
But this pattern is everywhere in pro sports, and the explanation athletes give can be at least as entertaining as the event itself.
So, as Otto von Bismarck once said, “a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” I hope with all sincerity you never make any of the following blunders.
Not all of these instances are career-ending injuries. Some are minor, some involve jail time, and some are downright hilarious. For this piece, I have intentionally stayed away from the myriad of arrests and stories like Aaron Hernandez because, well, they’re depressing.
So without further ado:
The Darwin Awards, NFL offseason style
Jason Pierre-Paul is the most interesting man in the world. At least he was on the 4th of July, 2015.
We all have that friend: “hey you know what would be a good idea…” where, every time, whatever comes out of their mouth is unquestionably not a good idea.
Holding a lit mortar falls into that category. JPP did eventually come forward and describe the events of that fateful evening, and it’s a pretty good read. To Jason’s credit, he didn’t know it was lit. To his detriment, he tried to light an explosive seven times in quick succession without taking a moment to reflect on the possible faulty nature of said explosive.
Pierre-Paul actually passed out before the necessary surgery, but his one command to the doctors was “don’t cut my hand off.” They were just over 40% successful, as JPP retained two fingers on his right hand while the rest were amputated. His pointer finger suffered the most, being taken down all the way to the palm.
Besides entertainment, the incident serves another purpose. Jason Pierre-Paul is now the face of the NFL’s war on fireworks-related accidents. Truly, a noble warrior for justice.
In all seriousness JPP was fortunate to escape not only with his life, but a job. That same year C.J. Wilson, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, retired three weeks after doing nearly the same thing.
Aqib Talib and Plaxico Burress both played outside the numbers. They were exceptional at their position and excelled at the big pass play. Oh yeah and they both shot themselves with their own gun. Burress did it first in 2008, and his recent explanation of what happened is well worth the read. If you’re the type of reader who’s already sick of links two stories in, let me sum up: Burress was in a dark stairway when he tripped on a step, felt his gun loose from its holster, reached for it and accidentally pulled the trigger, not knowing he had shot himself until a friend saw blood at his feet. So he said.
Bad day: getting shot.
Bad day, slightly more embarrassing: shooting one’s self.
Worse day: authorities discovering one does not have license to carry in the state of New York.
Worst day yet: All of the above while Mayor Michael Bloomberg was in an election year and made his zero gun policy very public.
Plaxico spent twenty months in jail, returning to the NFL in 2011.
Burress’ incident was not in the NFL’s dead time, but Talib’s was. In June of 2016, Aqib Talib pulled off the same feat, and twitter blew up with Plaxico comps.
Aqib Talib pulled a Plaxico Burress smh— OCQUENNY #A4D (@WhatItDo_Q) June 8, 2016
Talib, who had been involved in incidents with guns in the past, told police he was too drunk to recall details of the shooting. “Everything was a blur,” he reportedly said. According to the police report, Talib said he didn’t know who shot him and that the bullet “entered into the rear of his right thigh then exited his right calf”.
That’s most everything that was made public. Additional details were never released as to how Talib executed this most athletic maneuver. He showed up at the hospital in a Rolls-Royce, marijuana apparently included.
Talib didn’t end up missing any games the following season, though he was forced to sit out the champion’s visit to the White House that summer.
You want him on your team…but not in your parking lot
Travel back a few years to 2011. Matt Prater is busy making Tim Tebow famous with game winner after 60-yard game winner. A few months before that though, Prater made headlines on August 2nd. Matty P was arrested for a DUI hit-and-run, and leaving the scene of an accident.
Three years later he was suspended four games for “substance abuse” – in August once again – since he’s been in the league’s alcohol program since the 2011 incident.
I lied. One of these is a football injury
Some may remember that Steve Smith had a down year in 2010 (he caught under 50% of his targets for the only time in his career). It may be attributed in part to the pitiful offseason he had that year. Or more accurately, lack of offseason.
In late June of that year Smith broke his arm playing flag football. It was the same arm he’d broken that previous season, but a slightly different location.
This was not a single-game event. Reportedly Smith had been an enrolled member of an adult flag football league at a Charlotte YMCA. He generally played quarterback and safety.
Steve’s two defenses were entertaining as well. Initially he claimed he broke his arm roughhousing with his children. After a few calls by management, the real story came out and Smith fessed up, but lamented his celebrity status.
“I am a regular guy outside of football,” Smith argued. “I mow my grass, too. I can get my finger chopped off fixing my lawnmower”. I’m not sure how many friends Steve has lost to yard equipment, but it shows the separation from normalcy that professional game-playing can create.
If all that’s not good enough, #89 had enrolled in the league under a “false” name – Stephon Smith. He had also recruited QB Josh McCown and WR Kenny Moore to play on his team.
The best NFL comp to Jeff Kent might be former Seahawk Brandon Marshall. In March of 2008 he wound up in an arm brace for three months because he crashed through an entertainment center. He maintained that he slipped on a McDonald’s bag and hurt his arm bracing his fall.
Marshall never backed down from his story. He severed an artery, a vein, a nerve, and five nerves in the fall. His teammates didn’t seem too concerned about it; teammate Tony Scheffler even defended Marshall’s accident.
Marshall had one of his many 1,000+ yard seasons in 2008, so it clearly didn’t bother him all that much.
There’s not much of a point to all of this. Then again, they wouldn’t be pointless injuries if there were. Personally, I think the system is designed for athletes to fail. Not just in the NFL level, most professional sports. MLB draft choices often end up in rookie ball, where they finish up in August or September with a hefty signing bonus and very little structure until March.
Fortunately, the Seahawks have had relatively little disaster on either side of Malik McDowell. With exactly one month until training camp begins, John Schneider and Pete Carroll must continue to wait, and hope for no news. To his credit, Schneider recently spoke to Seattle’s efforts to get back to drafting quality, competitive athletes who love football more than everything else. That’s no guarantee of a quiet summer, but it’s a good sign.