O’Neil: By taking time to shoutout Earl Thomas, Seahawks’ Bobby Wagner took a big step
Bobby Wagner is a grown up.
And while that may not sound like much of a compliment, in the hyper-competitive and exceedingly prideful world of professional sports it most certainly is.
And that reason is why it’s worth noting that Wagner paused at the end of his interview on “Brock and Salk” Monday to acknowledge Earl Thomas:
“I would like to take this time to shoutout to Earl Thomas. I think he’s an amazing player, he’s an amazing person, he’s a Hall of Famer. And just let him know that we’re over here and we’re wishing for the best in that situation and we’re thinking about him. And I just want him to know that.
“Just because he needs to know. He needs to know that we appreciate him over here. Because he’s a talent that – you’re not going to ever see another person like him ever again play the football field.”
Context is everything and there are two layers here to consider:
First: This is important considering Thomas’ absence from Seattle’s offseason program. Everyone in the Western World knows the score on this one. He’s entering the final year of his contract with the Seahawks. He’s made no secret of his interest in an extension, and the last time we heard him talk about the subject was in February at the Pro Bowl when he said he couldn’t see himself reporting without a new deal.
So at a very basic level, Wagner’s mention of Thomas was an acknowledgment that the free safety is missed.
The second layer is more personal and it relates to something that happened last December when Wagner was trying to play through a hamstring injury. And after Seattle was blown out at home by the Rams, Thomas openly wondered whether the Seahawks would have been better off had Wagner not played.
I don’t think Thomas was being malicious. He credited Wagner for trying to play, but his honesty was a break in the locker-room code: Thou Shalt Not Question a Teammate’s Contributions (at least not in front of the press).
Wagner responded via Twitter by requesting that Thomas not mention him by name. Specifically, “E keep my name out yo mouth. Stop being jealous of other people success. I still hope you keep balling bro.”
Look, it’s pretty tame, And Wagner apologized for his reaction the following week. But lesser slights than this have resulted in full-fledged feuds and even fistfights. When I covered the Seattle Supersonics (RIP), there was a fight between two dudes over the fact one of them was singing in the shower.
It’s a prideful business, being a professional athlete. And a big part of the psychology that allows an athlete to reach the elite levels that both Wagner and Thomas have is the very thing that can make it difficult to let perceived slights or lack of respect go. To be great you’ve got to not only be headstrong, you can’t dwell on previous mistakes.
And that’s why I want to pause to acknowledge what Wagner said. Not only was it an acknowledgment of the talents of a teammate, but it was showed a distinct absence of any lingering pettiness.
It’s what a grown up would do, and while it may sound weird to praise a 27-year-old man for his maturity, 20 years covering sports in this town have taught me that behaving like a grown up is more rare than you might think and why it’s worth acknowledging in this case.