Consider the following scenarios: Quarterback A vomits during the last drive of a game during a playoff loss, causing people to question his fitness. Quarterback B vacations in Mexico with his famous girlfriend prior to a playoff loss, causing people to question his focus.
Which one seems more reprehensible? I’m inclined to say Quarterback B. Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens, however, defended Quarterback B several years after blasting Quarterback A.
To clarify by naming names: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb vomited during the final drive of Super Bowl XXXIX, earning him T.O.’s wrath and placing him under a microscope as a quarterback unable to win big games. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo vacationed with singer Jessica Simpson in Cabo San Lucas during the Cowboys’ bye weekend, earning him a tearful defense from T.O. after playing poorly.
Normally, I’m all right with a little crying in sports. (Hell, one of my favorite college basketball players ever was Duke’s J.J. Redick. To put it mildly, he had rather prolific tear ducts.) Tears show that the athlete cares enough about his sport and his team to show a little emotion. And I’m certainly all for teammates supporting each other. But this situation is just ludicrous, particularly when T.O. went the Dane Cook way of protecting his current quarterback. This involves choosing a few key phrases, then blubbering and repeating them: “It’s really unfair. That’s my quarterback.”
Well, what’s actually unfair is the amount of negative press T.O. generated for Donovan McNabb, especially when McNabb’s Eagles reached the Super Bowl and Romo’s Cowboys haven’t even reached the NFC Championships. It’s also unfair to defend potentially inadequate preparation and attack exhaustion after a number of hard hits. Given the choice, I would prefer to know that my quarterback left everything he had on the field.
The academic equivalent of McNabb’s situation would be a student studying hard, and finding a problem on a test that he just couldn’t solve. The equivalent of Romo’s situation would be a student blowing off study time altogether, or at least looking like he hadn’t prepared as much as he could have.
But if the bottom line is an athlete’s actions on the field, why does this even merit a mention? After all, professional athletes deserve their privacy just like everyone else, right?
Well, that’s debatable. In an ideal world, people would recognize that celebrities deserve to keep their personal and work lives separate just like everyone else. However, we live in America, a country that has virtually no delineation between private and public lives. To think that such a vacation would go uncovered is incredibly naïve, particularly given Simpson’s tendency to occupy the limelight. And it’s hypocritical of T.O. to decide that it’s unfair for the media to ask questions about a bye-weekend getaway, but okay for him to directly question his quarterback’s fitness.
Physical abilities aside, it is a professional athlete’s job to minimize distractions. At the very least, a smart athlete does not bring distractions upon himself. And Jessica Simpson qualifies as a very blonde distraction. Note that this is different than New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady dating Gisele Bundchen or Bridget Moynahan. Brady is notoriously careful about trying to keep his private life separate from his duties as quarterback. Even when the news leaked that Moynahan was pregnant with Brady’s child, Brady managed to keep his focus on football. You may also notice that neither Bundchen nor Moynahan ever wore pink No. 12 jerseys with the intention of attracting attention to herself, as Simpson did with her No. 9 jersey.
Furthermore, much of Simpson’s fame is based on how many cameras follow her every move. As a reality television star, she invited cameras into her life on a daily basis. Romo has done the same by association.
There is also a sharp contrast between Romo’s situation and the Randy Moss situation, in which Moss was accused of dating violence. The Patriots have chosen to voice their support for Moss, but without making a huge show out of it by voicing the company line: We support Randy, and we hope the situation resolves itself. There is no finger-pointing and there are no tears, and the result is that the Patriots remain focused on the Super Bowl.
Ultimately, professional athletes are allowed to do whatever they want in their downtime. They’re paid to play on the field, not to lead wholesome lives off it. But the catch-22 is that this rule only applies if they still perform well. Because Romo chose to spend his weekend with a high-profile celebrity and then lost the next game, it should have been obvious that people would suggest Simpson was a distraction. T.O. would do well to enlighten himself of this truth.