THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Right or wrong is impossible to determine under these circumstances, because all we have to work with are the antagonistic perspectives of the only two people involved.
So you can stand behind Eric Dickerson, the Hall of Fame running back who will now distance himself from his beloved Los Angeles Rams because he's too proud to have his freedom of speech threatened. Or you can stand behind Jeff Fisher, the longtime coach who was letting Dickerson know he cannot expect favors while being critical and allegedly came away thinking an understanding had been reached.
Really, it's difficult to take sides over a conversation we were not privy to, when we know neither the tone nor the intentions.
Really, all that matters is what came of it: Dickerson feels upset and unwanted, and now he will not be a part of this.
It is a sad development and a public-relations nightmare at the worst possible time -- first year back in Los Angeles, 4-7 with the least aesthetically pleasing team in the NFL and coming off a humiliating loss. On top of all of that, the perceived villain is Fisher -- the man many fans have long been clamoring be fired. And on top of all that, the perceived victim is Dickerson -- the organization's most important alum, because he was the last Rams star in L.A., because he remains so invested and because fans love him so much for his brutal honesty.
Dickerson was crucial to the Rams' hopes of bridging the gap with a fan base it left behind more than 20 years ago, and alienating him -- whether intentional or not -- alienates a large chunk of a fan base just starting to get used to having professional football in its neighborhood. A fan base that was already getting bored; that was already paying more attention to the Oakland Raiders up north and might soon have to welcome the San Diego Chargers from down south.
It's why the Rams tried so hard to get out in front of this early Monday afternoon, when Dickerson first suggested on his KLAC-AM 570 radio show that someone from "upper management" told him he was no longer allowed on the sideline.
"Everything we've done since we returned, Eric has been part of the organization, and that's what we want to make sure doesn't change," Rams COO Kevin Demoff told ESPN shortly after Dickerson's initial comments. "He’s been part of our efforts to connect to the community. That’s what’s disappointing about any type of miscommunication, no matter how big or small. He’s somebody we want around, he’s somebody who sets a great example for our players, and I think anybody who’s in this business has to have a thick skin to understand that when you lose there’s going to be criticism."
A few minutes earlier, Fisher told the assembled media he didn't know where Dickerson's comments stemmed from, then touched on "a really good conversation" the two shared and added: "I'd welcome him in the building. I'd love to have him come in. I'd love to have him come to practice. I'd love to have him come in the meetings."
And that set Dickerson off.
He made the media rounds, telling Fox Sports Radio, ESPN, the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Daily News and basically any other interested outlet that it was Fisher who made him feel unwanted. He recalled the entire conversation verbatim, highlighting the times when he shot back at Fisher. Some snippets, courtesy of Dickerson himself:
"Let me explain something to you, Jeff: I'm a grown-ass man. I'm not a little kid, or the kids you're coaching."
"Do you feel like I owe y'all something? Send me a bill. I'll pay it. I don't want anything from the Rams. I'm nobody's kiss-ass."
"You can go any place else. You can go back to Tennessee, you can go to Cleveland, you can go to SC. Still, I'm going to be Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams. That's why I wear that gold jacket. I have the right to say what I say."
"I want to come to these football games about as much as I want to put a bloody steak around my neck and dive into the Pacific Ocean buck naked."
And then, of course: "I won't be at the Coliseum as long as Fisher's coaching. I'm a man of my word. If I tell you something, I'm going to do it."
The following morning, Dickerson relayed those sentiments once again on SportsCenter. Hours later, Fisher -- his job security seemingly more perilous than ever -- basically summarized his point of contention with Dickerson this way: "He's totally entitled to his opinion, and he has every right to be critical. But as I told him in the conversation, you can't have it both ways. You can't be critical, and then come back and ask for this and ask for that."
Meanwhile, Dickerson's Twitter account (@EricDickerson, with more than 65,000 followers) retweeted countless fans who were supporting him and blasting the organization, blasting Fisher, blasting Demoff. Some vowed to no longer attend games until Fisher is let go and thus Dickerson's shun is lifted.
Right or wrong, the Rams lost big.