I am here to defend someone who apparently is the worst person to disgrace humankind. Castro? Bin Laden? No. Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland.
It turns out that Ireland, in a recent predraft interview with receiver prospect Dez Bryant, asked Bryant if his mother had been a prostitute.
The reaction has been mostly vicious. Ireland has been vilified. Media moralists have judged the general manager guilty of felonious insensitivity. Fans on message boards and in chat rooms, those modern cathedrals of reasonable discourse, even have called for Ireland’s firing. Even the NFL Players Association shook a fist at Ireland on Wednesday.
His crime — Oh the (lack of) humanity! — was to pose a question determined by mob consensus to be neither tactful nor kind.
The immediate firestorm caused Ireland to publicly apologize on Tuesday, even though he didn’t do much wrong for reasons you’re about to hear.
Some quick background first: Bryant’s mother Angela had Dez when she was 15 and had three children by 18. Dez’s father, MacArthur Hatton, was in his early 40s, more than twice Dez’s mother’s age. Mom was sentenced to four years in state prison for distributing crack cocaine when Dez was 8. Herself a user of cocaine, marijuana and PCP, Angela served 18 months in jail.
Dez’s somewhat chaotic upbringing is partly why many teams including Miami attached red flags to Bryant and had concerns whether to draft him.
Other teams asked Bryant if his mother still did drugs. Legitimate, right?
Here is why Ireland’s offending question was, too, in context.
It is common for NFL teams to at times pose provocative questions to prospects not so much to gain information but to gauge the reaction, to measure composure or cool-headedness. But that was not the case here.
In this case the conversation about Bryant’s upbringing led to Ireland’s question. It was not out of context.
That doesn’t mean Bryant didn’t have the right to be offended.
Nor does that mean Ireland asking such a thing — no matter the context — isn’t fair game for honest criticism.
But in this case the GM is being awfully maligned by those who were not in the room to hear the entire conversation or what preceded the question. And also by those who apparently don’t agree that a team considering spending $15 million to $20 million in guaranteed money on a player has the right and obligation to probe that player’s background — especially when it presents warning signals and begs that scrutiny.
Now, don’t mistake this as entirely an exoneration of Ireland.
If the broad (albeit underinformed) perception is now that Ireland is an insensitive ghoul, well, that’s a perception-is-reality situation the Dolphins must deal with, and Ireland must bear that weight.
What’s troubling is that it is part of a developing pattern of insensitivity by this Dolphins’ front office.
The irony is that the prostitute question over which Ireland is being pilloried is probably the least of the recent insensitive instances by this front office.
The mishandling of all-time franchise defender Jason Taylor still echoes a sour note. He’s a Jet now because the Dolphins neither offered him a contract (since the one they withdrew last November) nor bothered to explain why.
This was the same front office that would not allow departing Zach Thomas to use the club’s facilities for a farewell news conference to thank fans.
The treatment of Thomas and Taylor, the coldness and public disrespect, is to me far more egregious than one ill-fated question put to Bryant in what ostensibly was a private interview.
Trading for star receiver Brandon Marshall and signing high-priced free agent Karlos Dansby were reminders that players like to go where the money, the opportunity or the shot at a Super Bowl ring are. Sometimes it might be the head coach or even the locale swaying a player.
It isn’t usually the general manager.
In a close call, though, why risk alienating fans or future players over a perception that the front office doesn’t treat guys right?