O’Neil: Seahawks QB Russell Wilson’s comments may break a cardinal rule
I’m about to be incredibly nit-picky.
I want to be up front about that because I’m going to take a relatively innocuous answer from one of the most boring quotes in American sports and talk about big, over-arching themes of trust and responsibility in an NFL locker room.
In other words, I’m going to blow everything out of proportion by taking issue with something Russell Wilson said. The reason I am going to do this is because I believe my very small quibble with one answer last week is an ever-so-slight step in a direction that could pose big problems.
Wilson was absolutely right when he said Seattle needs a few more stars if it’s going to get back to the Super Bowl. I just think he was wrong to say that publicly.
I know, I know, it sounds contradictory if not kind of stupid to chide someone for speaking a relatively obvious truth, but I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and think, “Uh-oh” when I heard his exchange with an ESPN reporter that occurred last week at the Pro Bowl:
ESPN: Are you confident, Russell, that the pieces are in place on this team?
Wilson: “I think we need a couple more. I think we need a couple more.”
Wilson then pointed to the addition of Jadeveon Clowney, scheduled to be a free agent, who was acquired by Seattle just before the regular season began.
“I think Jadeveon’s a big-time guy that we would love to get back on our football team. He was so good in the locker room. He brought so many just havoc plays to the field.”
That’s absolutely great. Lobbying for the retention of talented teammates is something every player should do. But then Wilson went back to the subject of additions and even pointed to where the Seahawks should look.
“Now, hopefully we can get a few other players there on defense and also on offense, we have a great offense, but we could always add more pieces, and I think that’s going to be a part that’s going to be great with John Schneider and Pete (Carroll) as well in terms of this offseason. Free agency is very, very key to get superstars on your team and try to get great players that can fill the space and then the draft. We always do a great job in the draft and that’s going to be really important to get some young stars, up and coming.”
As far as team critiques go, it’s about as optimistic and hopeful as you can get. It’s also accurate. The team does need a couple more players and with three draft picks in the first two rounds and loads of salary-cap space, you can expect the Seahawks to make some additions.
But I don’t think players should be in the business of publicly offering up advice on the personnel department. Not unless you’re unconcerned with resentment brewing behind the scenes. Thou shalt not publicly criticize a teammate. It’s as close to a cardinal rule as I’ve discovered in 15 years of covering the NFL in general and the Seattle Seahawks in particular.
It’s one of the things that makes the sport so incredibly difficult to cover. No one is honest about who screwed up whether it was the coach who called a specific play, the player who failed to execute that specific play or the executive who chose the player who failed to execute the play. When a reporter does try to get an answer to the question of who, specifically, goofed the answer, it usually revolves around a need to look at film or the importance of execution and the need for everyone to get better. Anything but a specific name or assignment.
It’s about more than just being polite. Football is a game of incredible interdependence. The success of any given play requires the cooperation and coordination of 11 different players on the field, and the trust necessary for that kind of cooperation is best produced by showing nothing other than absolute faith that the guy lining up next to you is capable of doing the job.
I realize that I’ve spent an awful lot of words trying to illustrate a pretty minor problem with Wilson’s honest answer to a simple question. Maybe it would help if I provided an example of a better answer.
For years, I’ve written the Seahawks preview section for “Street & Smith’s NFL Yearbook.” This assignment used to have a section in which you were instructed to have a member of the team anonymously answer questions ranging from who was the best player in the division to his team’s biggest personnel need. I called one of Seattle’s players – a captain – who was more than happy to help on everything right up to the point I asked him about what he thought the team needed. He said he wasn’t going to answer that one because to point to something his team needed would be the same as saying the guys currently on the roster couldn’t provide it, and he wasn’t going to say that about his teammates even if this was anonymous.
That is the right way for a captain to talk about his team.