Editor's Note: The following column was posted on Friday, Nov. 9 -- a day before the Vikings returned Troy Williamson's game check.
Whoa, there, Vikes. Down, boys. You're only one day into the public discovery of FuneralGate, and already you've got football followers around the country harking back to the memory of the "Love Boat," at Randy Moss at the bitter end rather than the sweet beginning.
You're currently running cheap, heartless and long-term-ignorant on the fan-o-meter, and to put it in a more direct business perspective, that crackling sound in the background is the free-agent market drying up ever so slowly around the Twin Cities as NFL players ask one another, "You hear about what the Vikings did to Troy?"
So fix it. Refund wide receiver Troy Williamson the game check. Do it now, during the daily news cycle. If you can get it done before "Mike & Mike" go off the air, or at least before Stephen A. comes on, so much the better.
Heck, do the wrong thing, if that's the only way you can think about it. Sure, you'll be violating your business principles. It'll probably feel like a precedent-setting misstep in certain of your front offices.
And it's true: The next time one of your players loses a grandmother who was like a mother to him, and who spends too long making arrangements for family members to fly in for the funeral, including some who are in the armed services, and who is simultaneously dealing with a brother who has been in and out of a coma for two months after a car accident -- well, you just might have a situation on your hands.
But, clearly, this is no longer about what you perceive as right or wrong. It doesn't even matter, at this point, that Williamson almost certainly knew when he left the team last week that if he stayed more than a couple of days, he'd face a penalty or the loss of that week's game check. Williamson did know that. He stayed in South Carolina anyway. He was willing to take the financial hit of almost $26,000 in order to secure his grandmother's funeral and make sure his family members could get flights to be there.
It's not about that. It's certainly not about the "business principle" that coach Brad Childress cited on Thursday, explaining, sort of, the fine. The coach added, by way of further (but not exactly) explaining, "If you don't show up, how does that work? We talked about that today." (And to be fair: This isn't Childress' thing. He's just the guy who has to speak to it.)
It's not even about the fact that many other athletes, including other Vikings, have quietly endured terrible family situations without missing a game or even much practice. That happens fairly regularly in the industry, and especially in football, where players are being paid to make an impact 16 times per year and rightfully understand the obligation to do so.
All true. All verifiable. And all beside the point. The point is, Vikes, you look ridiculously cheap, and crass. You're the organization that took money away from a guy who felt so compelled by the events of his real life that he needed to be with his family in a time of crisis. Is that kind of a PR hit really worth $25,588.24 worth of "principle"?
I know, I know: Pretty soon guys will be saying they really need the weekend off for this or that emergency, just willy-nilly. It's such a reasonable fear, isn't it, that players would willingly sabotage their own careers by failing to show up for an NFL Sunday, in a business with an average career shelf life of mayonnaise left out in the sun? They'll be spilling out the door trying to run away from game day and drive down their own market value.
(Side thought: Would Adrian Peterson be docked a game check in the same way as a receiver who has only nine catches in six starts?)
Sure, it's a mess. It is a mess that, initially, your top executives did nothing to create. No one wants a family tragedy. No one wants a starter going through personal turmoil in the middle of the season. No one wants the employees deciding which rules they'll follow and which they'll ignore.
And on the other hand: You're the organization that just took money out of the hands of a guy who looks like he tried to do the right thing by his family. It is money, strictly speaking, that the Vikings as a company would never miss. It is not an invitation to chaos. It's a human moment.
And if you can't be moved to that reality, be moved by this: At the end of the day, it's just plain good business to take great care of your people. The clock's ticking.
Mark Kreidler's book "Four Days to Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland", has been optioned for film/TV development by ESPN Original Entertainment. His book "Six Good Innings," about one town's ability to consistently produce Little League champions, will be released in July 2008. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.