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Throat grabs and spitting: Why NFL is unlike most other companies


The NFL and its working environment is not like other businesses. It's not like a law firm, a hospital, a bank, a school or any other large place of employment.

Frankly, I'm surprised this point needs to be made. But given the outcry railing against the infamous question Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland asked draft prospect Dez Bryant and assertions that it would be unacceptable in other industries, evidently people don't understand that the NFL is a very different animal and should be treated as such.

I'm not condoning the question Ireland asked, no matter what the circumstances may have been. Far from it. Fact is, I'd like to think I was reared the right way and my first inclination would have been to go across the table if Ireland asked a question like that about my mother.

I understand the Dolphins were supposedly trying to see how Bryant would react, since he may hear similar comments, or worse, on the field. But the GM's office is not the field. Just because I would have confronted Ireland if he asked me a question like that doesn't mean I would get a personal foul penalty on the field if I confronted a player in a game. It is a vastly different context inside the white lines. Hopefully in a game I would just make darn sure I found the guy who said that to me so I could mete out the punishment in a legal manner.

The question was inappropriate, but it was inappropriate mainly because it literally has nothing to do with football. It was not, however, unacceptable because your company's Human Resources handbook states that question cannot be asked.

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My very first day in the NFL at the Redskins post-draft mini-camp in 2001, I was going against LaVar Arrington in a one-on-one drill and my hand happened to slide up his chest and land on his throat. It was a competitive drill, so I squeezed his throat as hard as I possibly could, trying to crush his Adam's Apple until he let up on the play. I'm pretty sure something similar wouldn't go over too well at the new employee orientation day at Wal-Mart.

And my guess is some type of suspension would be in order at a Wall Street banking firm like Merrill Lynch if one worker blatantly spit into the face of another, like Gerard Warren did to me in 2004, when he was a member of the Cleveland Browns. Yet I never said a word after the game to any person of authority. I simply took advantage of a tv timeout to tell Warren and the other Browns defensive linemen who had been giving me a hard time, that if they didn't stop I was going to break one of their legs. They stopped.

I'm pretty sure the guy working second shift at a Ford plant would lose his job if he pulled off a colleague's helmet, swung it wildly at him, and then caught him with a right hook that caused his ear to split open before co-workers broke up the fracas. That's exactly what happened with me and Arrington in Washington, this time in 2002. Not only was he not disciplined, but also I was the one who got a brief scolding, from my offensive line coach, for not "winning" the fight. So I put my helmet on and went right back into the huddle for the rest of the drill, putting off getting my ear stitched and the hand I hit him with X-rayed until after practice.

Odds are the teenager working the drive-thru window at Taco Bell would be looking for gainful employment if he kicked another employee in the stomach repeatedly like Sam Adams did to me during training camp in Buffalo in 2005. Not only did that happen in the workplace, but also it was witnessed by thousands of fans who were in attendance at practice that night. I don't remember any of them filing any type of workplace harassment suit on my behalf after that incident. The media sure didn't seem troubled by it. They just asked me for quotes about how it started so they could write about it for the next day's paper.

There are thousands of similar examples. Those are just the first few that came to mind when I started hearing all of this rhetoric about how an Ireland-type question would never happen in a Fortune 500 company. No kidding. Neither would most of the things that happen in the NFL. What's your point?

My point is the NFL is not like other industries. I don't think it ever has been and I'd like to think it never will be. It is the last bastion of pure, unadulterated, testosterone-laden barbarism. That, of course, is a huge part of why it is so great and we love it so much.

Sure, the NFL is big business. And there are so many facets of the business, from the sponsorship and marketing efforts to the 401Ks for the employees, that make it feel like it is just like any other huge company. Maybe it really is that way to the people in the accounting department. I can promise you it isn't like that for the employees who work on the field.