|His name is Rudd ... as in mud|
By Jason Whitlock
Page 2 columnist
It's really rather disgusting and inhumane the way Cleveland Browns fans and many of my sports-writing colleagues are treating Dwayne Rudd, the linebacker dubbed by one heartless scribe as the human "Mistake by the Lake.''
Ridiculous. Rudd, the former Viking, pieces together a solid NFL career, and now people who have never walked a block in Rudd's cleats want to reduce his football legacy to one innocent, ill-timed, well-deserved helmet-tossing that somewhat contributed to a season-opening loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
How unfair. How cruel. Has our zeal to identify the good guys and bad guys of the sports world eroded our desire to attempt, as Tom Wolfe suggested, to examine a man in full? Have we lost all compassion? Should we really be comfortable stamping Rudd with the Scarlet Letters "D.A." (dumb ass) and moving on to our next victim?
Rudd's plight reminds me of a tragic incident that ensnared a dear sports-writing peer a few years back. He, too, was stamped with the Scarlet Letters "D.A." after making an innocent mistake in the New England Patriots' press box. Sports Illustrated condemned him. His co-workers laughed and called him names, and they wouldn't let him play in any sportswriter games (for two unpaid weeks). He was a national laughingstock, the butt of many jokes. Sports fans demanded that he be fired. His promising, decade-long sports-writing career had been reduced to one embarrassing incident:
In the middle of the Patriots destroying the Kansas City Chiefs during a 1998 regular-season contest, my friend, responding to the taunts of bored Patriots fans, held up a sign asking whether then-New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe was (happy).
"Dwayne feels like s---," my friend confided. "The dumb mother doesn't want to leave his house. He doesn't want to get out of bed. If he's smart, he ain't watching TV. He knows Stu Scott, Rich Eisen and D.P. are puttin' a clown suit on his ass. And, oh Lawd, when Lupica and Ryan get through with him Sunday morning, won't be much meat left on the bones. ... I'd imagine Dwayne spends most evenings curled up in a fetal position cryin' like a little bitch."
Is that what you did? I asked my friend.
"Cried every night for two weeks straight," my friend acknowledged. "You work hard for years buildin' a rep. You sacrifice and make your bones, and then one day in the heat of battle you lose it for a minute and throw your whole damn reputation away. You embarrass your family and friends and co-workers. It's extremely humbling."
I covered the Kansas City-Cleveland game for my newspaper. I was in the Cleveland locker room when Rudd faced the media. Despite the fact his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty prolonged the game for one play, allowing Morten Andersen to kick the game-winning field goal, Rudd wouldn't accept responsibility for losing the game. "We have 22 starters and it's a team game," he said. "One play didn't lose us this game."
I asked my friend why Rudd refused to accept full responsibility for the loss.
"One hour after the game? You gotta be kidding. What did you expect?" my friend chided. "Dwayne Rudd was delusional when you talked to him. He's probably still delusional right now. He's in major denial. Look, when I got in trouble, I blamed everybody. If the Chiefs hadn't been getting their asses stomped by New England, those fans wouldn't have been taunting my ass. Do you think Sports Illustrated would've written about me if it wasn't for the fact that I'm extremely talented and extremely good looking? Haters."
"Of course,'' my friend said. "Did Ray Lewis recover from a murder trial, become a Super Bowl MVP and receive the fattest signing bonus in league history? Did Chris Webber rebound from the time out, become an NBA All-Star and get indicted on charges of lying to a grand jury? Ooops, sorry, bad example. Did I bounce back from New England, become a regular on the Sports Reporters, have numerous affairs with supermodels and learn to embrace my sex symbol status? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
"But the problem is, unlike Lewis, Webber and myself, Dwayne Rudd isn't very talented. I played with better linebackers at Ball State. Butch Davis is a fool for letting defensive coordinator Foge Fazio stock Cleveland's defense with three former Vikings -- Rudd, Corey Fuller and Robert Griffith. What's next, are the Browns going to bring in O.J. Simpson to do marriage counseling? Is Shawn Kemp going to teach the Browns about safe sex? Maybe they'll hire Eric Dickerson to be the voice of the Browns?"
What advice would you give Rudd?
"He better learn to laugh at himself," my friend said. "It's easy to become bitter and surly. The criticism he receives will seem completely unfair and overblown. But he needs to roll with it. Acknowledge his mistake, acknowledge that he single-handedly cost his team a game. The more blame he accepts, the more forgiving football fans will be. And, if all that fails and five years from now people are still throwing the KC-Cleveland game in his face, he should blame the entire incident on a mysterious, unnamed friend."
Jason Whitlock is a regular columnist for the Kansas City Star (kcstar.com), the host of a morning-drive talk show, "Jason Whitlock's Neighborhood" on Sports Radio 810 WHB (810whb.com) and a regular contributor on ESPN The Magazine's Sunday morning edition of The Sports Reporters. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.