Lawrence: Get A Thanksgiving Grip

Football is a game – one that some fans need to put in perspective, Amy Lawrence says

Amy Lawrence
November 26, 2019 - 9:21 pm
Cleveland Browns Myles Garrett Steelers Brawl

USA Today Images


It would be really easy to write my weekly column listing all the reasons I'm thankful for football this season. I could fire off a thousand words about the top storylines, the strangest twists, the successes we didn't see coming and the stunning disappointments. I could describe my favorite things about Lamar Jackson, the 49ers defense, the Seahawks' winding road, the return of Drew Brees, Minnesota's run game, Ryan Tannehill's second chance, and Buffalo flying under the radar. Television ratings are soaring; we can't seem to get enough.
For all of these reasons and more, I love the NFL, not to mention it's good for business. But I need to write about something else that's bothering me this last week, in the wake of the brawl at the end of Browns-Steelers on Thursday Night Football. We've rehashed the details over and over; this is not about pointing fingers or deciding who started what and whether the suspensions fit the crimes. No, it's the alarming aftermath that I can't get over yet.
Why does football bring out the worst in some people? Why do fans lose their minds and all perspective over a GAME?? Football is supposed to be fun and entertaining, a distraction from the challenges of "real life" when we need a break. It's a reason to hang out with family and friends (and strangers), tailgate, bond over a shared passion even if we have nothing else in common. But in the days after the brawl, certainly the low point of the season, too many fanatics lost touch with reality and embarrassed themselves with their reactions.
It's not the debate over the fight that sticks with me. It's the displaced aggression directed at James Thrash, the appeals officer jointly selected by the NFL and the Players' Association. The longtime wide receiver for the Eagles and Redskins was assigned to hear the appeal of Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett. Thrash did his job—listened to Garrett's side of the story, considered his perspective, and ruled based on the charge given to him by the league and the union. Garrett's indefinite suspension remained in place to the surprise of almost no one in and around the NFL. From current and former players to team officials to media insiders, the refrain was the same. Garrett smashing a helmet on the top of Mason Rudolph's head was reckless, dangerous, potentially injurious and mortifying for the sport. Because those eight seconds of video went viral within minutes, because the incident made national news the next day, the NFL wanted a swift and firm response to Garrett's actions.
Thrash handled his duties professionally and expediently, and he became a target for it. While it appears that irate fans targeted a fake Twitter account for Thrash, a brief search of his name uncovers attacks on his character and objectivity, accusations of bias and personal agendas, vile and inappropriate language, even death threats. How ironic that a man holding up a standard of safety for athletes finds his own safety threatened. Not one social media post or a handful of them, but thousands on Twitter and Facebook and other sites, from people who would never say those things if they were face to face with Thrash. It never ceases to amaze me the insults and vitriol humans will hurl at one another where there is no accountability.
By any degree, Thrash is exactly the type of guy football players and fans should want judging appeals. After a dozen years in the league, he shifted into the Washington front office to spearhead player development. He set up an internship program and helped athletes and their families with financial planning and continuing education. He tried to equip them for a positive and productive future and prepare them for life after pro football. After leaving the Redskins, Thrash spent three years with NFL Player Engagement, a league-wide initiative devoted to supporting players with their goals, challenges and well-being off the field. Thrash routinely demonstrated his care and compassion for fellow athletes, recognizing their lives are about more than football. That earned him universal respect and the chance to serve as appeals officer. Somehow, though, the truth doesn't matter when it comes to an anger-fueled Twitter rant.
Rudolph also turned into the object of ire for many fans. His role in the brawl can surely be argued and debated, and the Pittsburgh quarterback apologized for losing his cool and putting his teammates in a tough position, especially offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey. But the number of people willing to believe he directed a racial slur at Garrett with no proof is astounding. The number of people trashing Rudolph's character and reputation with no evidence is another example of fans losing all perspective for the sake of a game. No wonder a teammate described Mason as distraught when he heard about Garrett's claim. He is nearly powerless to defend himself and his character against the social media mob so quick to jump to conclusions. In 2019, accusations of racism carry heavy implications. We should be careful in condemning other people with the label of "racist"; and yet in Rudolph's case, no proof was required to make that leap.

On this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the freedom of speech and expression. In the United States, we are afforded the right to express ourselves without being censored by the government. In many nations around the world, that freedom is not guaranteed. But just because we HAVE the right to free speech doesn't mean we should exercise it every time! A little wisdom and restraint, some time to let the flood of emotion subside, a bit of perspective can go a long way. Football is a GAME. It's not life or death, the battle against the cancer, the war in the middle East. It's just sports and not worth losing our minds over.
Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoy time with your loved ones, some delicious food, peace, rest, and of course, football.

A well-traveled veteran of sports radio and television, Amy is the passionate host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program, After Hours with Amy Lawrence, from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Listeners can tune in from Canada and overseas, thanks to SiriusXM, and the CBS Sports app. Amy has also handled basketball play-by-play and color duties for various radio and TV outlets over the past 15 years. Amy graduated from Messiah College with bachelor’s degrees in Communications & Accounting before earning her master’s in TV & Radio from Syracuse University. She is a native of Concord, NH.