This is not a column about Eagles football. This is not a column about whether the Eagles should have traded a bunch of draft picks to select quarterback Carson Wentz. This is not a column about whether the Eagles have a quarterback problem. What the organization has brought upon itself as a result of last week’s draft is a woman problem. And that is the matter that should concern us the most.
Under head coaches Andy Reid and Chip Kelly, the organization became known for attempting to bring players of character onto this football team. There were a few detours and missteps along the way, but, in the main, if anything differentiated the Eagles from many other professional sports teams, it was their commitment to the character of their players. Even the organization’s most controversial move, giving Michael Vick a second chance after his sordid involvement with dogfighting, seems to have paid off in his becoming a solid citizen. The team’s dedication to good people has been due in large part to its owner, Jeffrey Lurie.
The Eagles have not won a championship since 1960. Lurie is growing older. Last week, that combination of circumstances and football considerations related to the draft resulted in a dramatic change in strategy for the team when it came to its late-round selections. The Eagles threw their own standards out the window and became the latest organization to turn a blind eye to violence against women. Enter Wendell Smallwood and Jalen Mills.
Smallwood’s friend, Zakee Lloyd, was charged with the murder of Manuel Oliveras in 2012. A female was the key witness in the case. Lloyd asked Smallwood to get to the witness. The police have a recording of a conversation between Lloyd and Smallwood where Smallwood is heard saying “I almost got her beat.” As a result, Smallwood was charged with witness intimidation. He turned cooperating witness against his now-former friend, and, as a result, when Lloyd cut a deal rather than go to trial, the charges against Smallwood were dropped. Smallwood denies he ever attempted to intimidate the female in question. What the words “I almost got her beat” apparently mean is that he was dancing with her and finally caught on to her moves. Am I a cynic for believing that the charges were dropped not because of a lack of evidence but because Smallwood cooperated? Maybe. Smallwood says he learned from the incident, but not enough to have avoided tweeting anti-gay remarks before they were erased from his Twitter page after the Eagles drafted him.
Jalen Mills was charged with second-degree battery of a woman in the summer of ’14. The charges were eventually reduced to a misdemeanor, and he ended up in what was called a “diversion” program (maybe such a program teaches participants a hobby in lieu of punching females?). Mills’ attorney explained that it really was Mills’ girlfriend who punched the woman (no word on whether she too was sent to a “diversion” program).
Howie Roseman, the Eagles guru for the draft, has called the off-the-field problems of Smallwood and Mills stuff that happens to kids that age. Roseman apparently is confusing youthful indiscretions such as tossing eggs at Halloween or stealing the opponent’s mascot with the more egregious problems of which his two draft picks were charged. The truth is that the Eagles pre-draft trade with the Cleveland Browns left the team in a pickle where they felt they had to take a chance. Roseman has not turned into Spencer Tracy playing Father Flanagan. His interest is pure and simple. Maybe these kids turn into good players, have learned their lesson, and enhance the team’s chances to win a championship. Lurie has signed off on the deals, his goodwill toward “choir boys” giving way to the need to win a Super Bowl.
What makes all of this so ironic is that the National Football League has finally been forced to acknowledge its past problem of ignoring violence against women. All it took was a video of one of its players, Ray Rice, delivering a knockout punch to his now-wife while inside an elevator. Prior to that video, Commissioner Roger Goodell treated player violence against women with a slap on the wrist. There was more hoopla over star player Tom Brady’s involvement in deflating footballs than quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s being accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a bathroom.
Despite the NFL’s institution of reforms in how it treats players who physically abuse women, the Dallas Cowboys added a serial abuser, Greg Hardy, to their team, but released him at the end of last season. Eagles fans and other fans around the league took delight in booing Hardy. Apparently, the adverse reaction around the league finally embarrassed Dallas owner Jerry Jones and outweighed Hardy’s talents on the field.
Maybe Smallwood and Mills will take advantage of their second chance. Maybe they won’t even show enough talent in training camp or the pre-season to make the squad and render the question moot. But what Roseman’s moves and Lurie’s acquiescence show us is that in the end, the Eagles’ moral compass is no different than that of any of the other organizations. As the immortal Vince Lombardi once said, in the NFL, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” ■