Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Updated: March 12, 1:20 PM ET
Did Eagles employee deserve to be fired?
By LZ Granderson
A guy walks into his boss's office, tells his superior he doesn't like some of the moves he has made and ends the conversation by calling his boss an idiot.
Not surprisingly, the guy is fired, although, curiously, 77 percent of the people polled by SportsNation about the scenario seem to think the employee was wronged.
That appears to be essentially what happened in the case of Dan Leone, the die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan who was fired from his part-time job with the team after allegedly posting an unflattering comment about the Eagles' offseason moves. I say "allegedly" because the only person talking without a press release is Leone. Employee records are confidential, and legally the Eagles are not supposed to air out details to any Joe Blow who calls.
It's the kind of story that at first glance appears to have clear-cut good and bad guys. But then, at first glance, "Watchmen" appeared to be a clear-cut good movie.
In both cases, things change when you see the whole picture.
When Leone posted "Dam Eagles R Retarted!!" on his status line, he had 120 fellow Facebookers listed as friends. Among those friends was Leonard Bonacci, the team's director of event operations and the man who happened to be Leone's boss. Among the first to respond to the post? You guessed it -- Bonacci.
"Can we talk about your post?" it read.
"I said sure and apologized for posting it," Leone said. "Up until then, I'd never called a radio station, written to a blogger or anything like that. I only did Facebook because everybody kept talking about it."
Shortly after the exchange with Bonacci, he was fired.
Leone posted his dismissal on Facebook, then called his fiancée and his sister.
"They fired me like I was a complete stranger," Leone said, whose friend list has almost doubled since word of his firing became public. "No one [from the team] has contacted me since my last day or anything. I guess they'd rather deal with the negative publicity."
Leone, who had been on the social networking site for about two months, didn't know about the privacy setting for the account, so his rant was visible to everyone. So remember that example about the guy going into his boss's office and calling him an idiot? Well, imagine that scenario playing out in front of the world -- after all, that is what the first "w" stands for in "www": World.
Yet 80 percent of ESPN's SportsNation believes the Eagles overreacted.
Now, I hate to see anyone out of work, especially in this economy, but I have a hard time faulting the Eagles for punishing a dispensable employee who criticized the organization in such a harsh and public way. If anyone wrote "(blank) R retarded" in an e-mail and "blank" saw it, and "blank" signs their check, the author of the e-mail is gonna be in trouble.
So taking action doesn't make the Eagles the bad guy. No, in the working world, that's common sense. Just because it's sports doesn't mean workers are exempt from basic employer-employee protocol. I don't agree with everything we do at ESPN, but I don't Tweet about it, either.
At least not under my legal name.
Of course, even if the allegations are true, it isn't fair if Leone got fired for something others get a pass on. Especially when you consider that, by all accounts, he was an otherwise good employee. Or when you take into account that athletes and coaches get to say far worse about their employer and sometimes are rewarded with contract extensions.
But then, it isn't really fair that athletes and coaches have to deal with fans, bloggers and the like calling them everything but a child of God, are targets for robbery and can be turned into a punch line even when their lives are in danger.
This is the unfair, unjust world that is sports: Rules apply to some; millionaires want more; and very rarely are there clear-cut bad guys or good guys. There are only people and, well, people make mistakes.
I believe Leone should have been punished for blasting his employer publicly. But I also believe it is a mistake to fire him for this one offense, and I feel the Eagles know this.
That is why I believe that if the allegations are true, the organization will correct itself.
Six years ago, it hired Leone -- who has a neurological birth defect that limits his limbs' range of motion and causes him to walk with a limp -- and placed him in a very public position in the first place. It's hard to imagine a company with that kind of understanding of the human condition not having room in its collective heart for one of the most basic elements that connects us all: the error.
"I can't cheer for another team," Leone said. "I will always be an Eagles fan."
So far, I don't see a good or bad guy. But if Philly remains silent, my opinion certainly will change.
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Page 2. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.