Athletes, too, should be able to get away


HOUSTON -- For the past month, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has been working with the suburb of Pearland, his homeowners' association and other homeowners in his neighborhood to get approval for a gate to add security to the neighborhood.

If he can't get the gate approved, he'll have to move.

Watt isn't a gated-community type of guy. While he strives for greatness on the field, off it he craves normalcy, like the kind he grew up with in the small Milwaukee suburb of Pewaukee, Wis. And while he enjoys the attention from fans and the love Houston has shown him ever since his pick-six against the Bengals in January 2012, that comes with a loss of privacy.

People follow him home, they wait in his driveway, they knock on his door and ask for autographs. This past offseason, Watt installed cameras around his home to add to an existing security system, just in case.

"I've gotten very close with the Pearland Police Department," Watt said during his news conference Wednesday. "Any time there’s an issue, they’re more than willing to help me out." He said it's usually people looking for autographs or pictures. "Nobody’s trying to harm me in any way or say anything bad. It’s usually just me saying, ‘Hey, man, this is my house, this is my personal space. Not right now.’ It’s all positive stuff, and I guess that means I’m playing all right if people want to come and get a picture or something."

Watt told me later that his tone would be very different if he ever felt legitimately threatened. Or if he had a wife and children.

Matt Schaub does have a wife, and three young daughters. This week, following established protocols for NFL players, he contacted the Texans and the NFL's security department because of concerns about the safety of his home.

The NFL's vice president of security, Jeff Miller, told the NFL Network that on Monday afternoon a vehicle pulled into Schaub's driveway and someone yelled obscenities at him.

On Wednesday, Schaub said "there really wasn't an incident" and added that "to my knowledge" a fan did not yell obscenities at him. He said the phrase "to my knowledge" more than once. He said he called the Texans because he had seen people driving by his home and taking pictures. The Houston Police Department later said in a statement on Twitter that the Schaub family filed a report about two trespassers.

"It’s been an ongoing thing," Schaub said about people driving by and taking photos. "Better safe than sorry. My main focus is to make sure that my family is safe and protect my home."

This kind of uninvited interaction doesn't happen to most Texans players. Running back Arian Foster, linebacker Brian Cushing and tight end Owen Daniels all said they never had Texans fans arrive at their homes.

"Hell no," said Foster, who is married with a baby son and young daughter.

What would he do if one did?

"Texas, man," Foster said, then he paused. "Well within my rights."

"I don't think that guy would be around much longer," said Cushing, who is married with a son who is almost 1 year old.

"If people actually showed up to someone’s house, that’s bush league and childish and it’s pathetic, honestly," Daniels said. "We’re playing a game. It’s our jobs. If that bothers somebody that much -- you don’t hear about that anywhere else in the entire league. You never heard about that anywhere except for here. I heard a story about a player we used to have that had something similar happen at his house."

Daniels, who got married this offseason, said that if someone tried that at his home, the situation might have been different.

"The Schaubs are a very, very nice family," Daniels said. "Everyone’s different. Everyone handles things a different way. Maybe it would be a different story if they showed up at someone else’s house."

He added: "That’s not a challenge or anything."

Privacy can erode for these men with such public jobs. And while most fans can identify the boundary between passion for one's team and invading someone's personal space, Schaub's and Watt's experiences show not all can.

This goes beyond vile Twitter comments and cheering for injuries -- things done by people who seem to forget professional athletes are also human beings. This takes away their ability to get away from work, something fundamentally necessary for most people to function.

"It’s the world we live in," Schaub said. "There are passionate fans out there, for better or worse. I understand that. Our team understands that. You hate for it to come to that because we’re better than that as a society and a community but it’s the nature of what we do. The only thing that can correct that is going out and beating the St. Louis Rams this week."

A football game, or even more broadly, a person's job performance, shouldn't determine how safe their family feels. But this week, that's what happened.