Eli's right: Rashad Jennings didn't need to apologize

Jennings apologizes to Eli, Coughlin, team and fans (1:50)

First Take's Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless react to the news that New York Giants RB Rashad Jennings apologized to QB Eli Manning, coach Tom Coughlin and the rest of the organization for comments he made earlier in the week. (1:50)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Giants RB Rashad Jennings' apology column in Wednesday's New York Post fit nicely into the established football narrative that treats each locker room like a secret society whose secrets must be guarded as though they were crown jewels or nuclear launch codes. An apparent submission to the chorus of "You gotta keep that stuff IN-HOUSE!" emanating from all corners of the old-school FOOBAW community, Jennings' mea culpa hit all the right notes -- deference to the established quarterback, an apology to him, the coaches and the fans, and an explicit reminder about the overarching importance of avoiding any behavior not singularly directed at winning games.

Funny thing, though. You know who thought this was all really, really silly? Eli Manning.

"Rashad didn't do anything wrong," the New York Giants quarterback said Wednesday.

No, he didn't. Not one single thing. When I found Jennings in the locker room after Sunday night's gut-slicing loss to the Cowboys, he was extremely upset. Everybody in that room was. Prince Amukamara said he wanted to create an "I Hate Tony Romo" Web series because Romo keeps beating them in the final minutes of games. Robert Ayers brushed off coach Tom Coughlin's effort to take full responsibility with a gruff, "We weren't good enough." Odell Beckham Jr. didn't even come out to talk.

So Jennings and I were talking about the game, and he had this long pause, and clearly wanted to get something off his chest, and he said, "As a running back, it's really tough when they tell you not to score."

I asked what he was talking about and he elaborated a bit, saying he could have scored on either first or second down but was told not to. Then I texted him the next day to ask if he could clarify some things, and he was kind enough to call me back and do just that.

"That call comes in from the sideline," Jennings said Monday afternoon. Of course, he personally got the call from Manning, since Manning is the one who talks in the huddle. But Jennings never once said it was Manning's decision to tell him not to score. We found that out later from Coughlin and Manning. Jennings was being a good teammate and a good human being, answering questions honestly and actually kind of carefully, making it clear more than once that he wasn't disagreeing with the decision on anything but a visceral level. He said of course he wanted to score, "but that's just the football player in you."

How this got to a crazy enough point that Jennings felt the need to publicly apologize is a study in modern sports overreaction. He obviously took way more heat than he deserved from outside the building; this became a talk-show topic Monday, and the traditionalist crowd lined up to bellow about the sanctity of the locker room and the evils of being honest with the media. I also get the strong sense that Jennings got a talking-to within the walls of Giants headquarters, though all Coughlin would say about it Wednesday was, "We've had the conversations and we're on to Atlanta."

Nothing Jennings said was with the intention of casting Manning in a bad light. Nobody in the Giants' locker room has anything but total reverence for Manning, the even-keeled two-time Super Bowl champ they'd all rather be than belittle. Jennings was being honest about the way he felt Sunday night, then on Monday he was answering questions honestly in an effort to be kind and helpful, because he's an honest, kind and helpful guy.

Unfortunately for him, such virtues aren't always admired in an NFL that allows Bill Belichick to mumble and condescend rather than educate, that defends Marshawn Lynch for looking fellow human beings in the eye and refusing to answer their basic questions, that operates as though the unveiling of any X-and-O-related thought might immediately trigger an 11-game losing streak.

Do we really want these guys to never be honest? Do we want to start getting our information directly from the teams and the players' Facebook pages and whatever this thing is that Derek Jeter has decided to spend the early part of his retirement publishing? Do we really want all these guys to be robots who won't tell the truth for fear of consequence? The sports fan in me doesn't want that, and I'll bet, no matter how much you nod when your favorite player bashes "the media," the curious sports fan in you doesn't really want that, either.

Jennings' crime was acting like a human being. He was upset, and he was honest about it. He wasn't malicious and he wasn't subversive. All of that stuff got put in later by other people. Jennings didn't need to apologize for anything he actually did -- just for what this whole thing became. That's not his fault, and good for Manning for realizing it. There are a lot more important things for the Giants to worry about right now than the level of detail their players offer the media after games.