An Albert Haynesworth defense motion
Isn't he doing exactly what you'd do if you had his leverage? So what's the problem?
Sentences I never thought I'd write:
Switzerland 1, Spain 0.
Kendrick Perkins may be the key to an NBA title.
Please welcome Democratic South Carolina Senate candidate Alvin Greene.
And now this:
I'm sympathetic to Albert Haynesworth.
In fact, I can't fault him whatsoever.
This, I know, is an unpopular position. Like, BP-executive-crocodile-tears unpopular. Since the disgruntled Washington Redskins defensive tackle blew off a mandatory team minicamp on Wednesday -- apparently to force a trade -- Haynesworth has become this week's poster boy for athletic selfishness, entitlement run amok, global warming, the breakup of the Gores and the fall of Rome in the west.
And that's just in his own locker room.
Redskins linebacker London Fletcher reportedly said Haynesworth "can't be depended on," while teammate Phillip Daniels claimed "he really turned his back on us." Coach Mike Shanahan expressed disappointment that the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year is staying home despite collecting a $21 million bonus on April 1, never mind that Washington was contractually obligated to pay the entire sum. (The nerve of that guy!)
Meanwhile, one national writer labeled Haynesworth pro football's biggest diva; a Washington, D.C., columnist likened him to a spoiled 3-year-old; and no less an authority than former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann said on satellite radio that the defensive tackle "offers nothing as a person, as a player, as a teammate" -- an assessment that more or less hits for the dead-to-me cycle.
To quote esteemed late-20th century philosopher Keanu Reeves: Whoa.
Look, I can't comment on Haynesworth as a person. I know he's not the sort of dude you want stomping on you, any more than you'd want to share a row with him in coach. But personal charm isn't the issue. The issue is simple.
Is Haynesworth actually doing something wrong?
Is he behaving in an inappropriate, intolerable, incomprehensible manner?
Does he richly deserve the slings and arrows already heading his way?
No. No. And, of course, no.
First of all, Haynesworth is hardly a diva. Divas by definition have incredible lung capacity; they don't need to take sideline breathers under deeply dubious auspices. More to the point, Haynesworth isn't being unduly selfish, disloyal or conniving. Nuh-uh. He's just using the leverage he has to maximum effect, something the rest of us do every single day of our lives.
What, you've never negotiated a car price? Hung up on an insufferable significant other? Made your uncooperative child go to his room? Used personal power to get what you want?
Haynesworth's argument essentially goes like this:
I signed with the Redskins expecting to be a havoc-creating, quarterback-attacking playmaker in a 4-3 defense. That's the role in which I excel; that's the style of play I enjoy; that's what was promised during my free-agent courtship. Only now, the team has shifted to a new coaching staff and a new 3-4 scheme, which basically asks me to eat double-team blocks. Thanks, but no thanks. I'd like a little more excitement. A lot more glory. Please send me somewhere else.
Is that really so awful? So craven?
Because this column is about the 6-foot-6, 350-pound Haynesworth -- and not, say, the 5-6, 185-pound Darren Sproles -- let's try a food analogy. Imagine you're a pastry chef. The top pastry chef in New York. A bunch of restaurants want you. One restaurant offers you more money than the others, plus the opportunity to run the dessert menu. You take it. A year later, the same restaurant switches to an all-fondue format and demands that you become a sous chef, chopping chocolate-dippable fruit wedges in the back room.
Technically, you're still preparing dessert. And you're still working with sugar. Woo-hoo! But otherwise, it's not exactly the gig you signed up for. Would you be annoyed? Feeling jerked around? Would you maybe call in sick and check the restaurant want ads, even though you're perfectly healthy? Would you try to prepare apple tarts somewhere else, perhaps move to a soufflé-friendly city like Boston or Philadelphia?
You would? Good. 'Cause all of the above is pretty much Haynesworth's situation. A situation that makes his reaction both understandably human and adult, as opposed to that of the world's largest pouting toddler.
(Note to angry Redskins fans: Please, no photoshops. "Adult Babies" on Jerry Springer is already too much. The & horror).
Speaking of impotent rage: Skins supporters, team members or press box critics upset over Haynesworth's intransigence maybe ought to direct some of their ire toward the club's financial decision-makers. After all, Haynesworth wouldn't have so much leverage -- $21 million worth, which last I checked goes a long way, Antoine Walker excluded -- if Washington hadn't been stupid enough to cut such a large check.
Correction: a bonus check. Not a check for playing. A check for agreeing to play. Which Haynesworth did. And now he's a bad guy? For saying yes to a big, fat sack of cash, real-life Monopoly money?
Time for another dessert analogy. You're a parent. You make your child dinner. Before dinner is served, you feed your kid a triple-scoop hot fudge sundae. Upon digging in to the main course, your kid refuses to eat. Too full. Not interested.
Who's to blame, you or the child?
Who's to blame for this impasse, the Redskins or Haynesworth?
Bottom line: Haynesworth doesn't deserve the flak he's receiving. And frankly, the flak is more than a little hypocritical. Fact is, he's doing exactly the same thing his use-and-discard NFL brethren would do if ownership didn't hold all the financial cards; the same thing panicking, overworked sports writers would do if the newspaper industry wasn't bleeding jobs like oil gushing into the gulf; the same thing all of us would do if we weren't running scared in a wheezing, job-poor economy.
He's dictating terms to his employers. Take this job and shove it? Not quite. But not far off, either.
Hmmm. Come to think of it, I'm not sympathetic to Haynesworth, after all.
Patrick Hruby is a freelance writer and ESPN.com contributor. Contact him at PatrickHruby.net.
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