WDaniel Wilcox read a tweet posted by ESPN’s Adam Shifter breaking the news of the passing of NFL quarterback Dwayne Haskins, and think about how some view athletes as mere entertainers without taking the time to see them as human beings.
“When you’re in the NFL, you’re just a piece of meat. You’re a name and you’re a number,” says Wilcox, who has played tough with the New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Baltimore Ravens.
Shifter faced backlash after recording Haskins’ career setbacks while reporting his death, which occurred when the 24-year-old was hit by a truck in the early hours of Saturday morning.
“Dwayne Haskins, a senior in Ohio before struggling to catch up with Washington and Pittsburgh in the NFL, died this morning when he was hit by a car in South Florida, according to his agent Cedric Saunders,” Shifter tweeted.
“Haskins has a family, and they’re getting hurt,” Wilcox says. “You are pointing out a flaw in someone rather than embracing the fact that someone just lost their life. There is a level of insensitivity. With being a reporter, sometimes you want to be the first to get it out and not think about the people you affect when you say things.”
The sports community has spoken out against Shifter’s tweet, which was posted at a time when Haskins’ family, friends and former teammates were digesting the enormity of his death. Schefter will eventually delete the tweet, but the damage is done.
Athletes like Dez Bryant, Lamar Jackson and former Ohio State University Cardale Jones criticized Schefter on social media With Jones tweeting: “How about the ‘Death of Dwayne Haskins, Jr., Husband, Brother Buckeye, Friend, Loved Teammate’ TF, the vicissitudes of his career have to do with the sad loss of his life.”
Haskins was with the Pittsburgh Steelers at the time of his death. Ryan Clark, a former Steelers defensive linebacker who now works with Shifter at ESPN, says the writer apologized directly to him for the tweet. But as of Monday morning, Shifter had not made a public apology.
This isn’t the first time Shifter has seemed more enthusiastic about breaking news thinking about the humanity of people. When a grand jury decided not to indict Deshaun Watson for sexual assault earlier this year, Shifter’s tweet read like the quarterback’s PR statement: “This is why Deshaun Watson, right from the start, welcomed the police investigation: He felt that He knows that the truth will come out.” Many have pointed out that failure to indict is not a declaration of innocence and that Watson remains under investigation by the NFL and in civil lawsuits over allegations of sexual misconduct committed by 22 women. On that occasion, Schefter apologized for his “poorly worded” tweet.
Shifter wasn’t the only person to act like an NFL scout in the wake of Haskins’ death. Jill Brandt, the former CEO of the Dallas Cowboys, seemed to be evaluating a college player’s suitability for the NFL rather than talking about the death of a young man when he appeared on the NFL’s SiriusXM. “He was a man who lived to die…maybe if he stayed in school for a year he wouldn’t do silly things [like] said Brandt, who later apologized.
Jason Wright, former NFL president and Washington chief captain, shared his thoughts on Brandt’s statement by tweeting, “There is a pervasive, vulgar, and false narrative about athletes, especially the NFL and the National Basketball Association, that great sport cannot come with cleverness and cleverness.” Great. Character. It subjugates men, pushes the idea that they are worth nothing but the ring. It has deep roots and is pernicious.”
Besides the blunders made by the media, there are notable cases where dehumanization has been a practice in the NFL. For decades, the NFL used the “race standard,” which assumed that black players had a lower baseline of cognitive abilities. In contrast, it was difficult for retired black players to obtain compensation based on mental decline associated with their playing days. In response to a lawsuit by former NFL players, the NFL implemented a plan in March to eliminate racial bias in testing and payment.
“They don’t want to pay for your health insurance when you’re done,” Wilcox says. “They don’t want to take care of your broken bones. They don’t care about torn ligaments. They don’t care about the surgeries you have while you play with them. All they care about is what they can do to get you on the field to help them win. They want you to make them more money and keep going. Bringing billions of dollars to the organization.”
Leaving it to the other athletes and those who knew and loved Haskins to step in and remind us that we didn’t lose a footballer this weekend, we lost someone. Steelers Linebacker TJ Watt remembers that Haskins “He always made people smile, and he never took life for granted.” His head coach Mike Tomlin said Haskins “was one of our hardest working workers, both on the field and in our community.” . “He was a young man of tremendous potential with an infectious personality. To say we are sad is an understatement,” Snyder and his wife, Tanya, said in a statement.
But it was an athlete from another sport, New York Mets player Pete Alonso, who was nearly killed in a car crash earlier this year, reminded us that we’re all as vulnerable as Haskins.
“It could easily have been me,” Alonso said after the Mets’ game against the Washington Nationals on Saturday. “Everyone above earth should be thankful for another day. Life is fragile, but we should all count our blessings if we’re on the right side of the dirt. It’s such an emotional thing to go through something like that, and I feel so bad not only [Haskins’] His teammates, but also his family.”
Alonso was right. Haskins wasn’t just a quarterback. Like all of us, he was human.