Shawn Andrews bullying case: Does the NFL hate oddballs?

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     Retired Philadelphia Eagle right guard Shawn Andrews is shown at NFL football training camp in Philadelphia in 2009. He has accused former teammate Donovan McNabb of making his life on the team a

    Retired Philadelphia Eagle right guard Shawn Andrews is shown at NFL football training camp in Philadelphia in 2009. He has accused former teammate Donovan McNabb of making his life on the team a "living hell." (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)

    When I first heard about the alleged bullying of Miami Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin, my reaction was: This guy reminds me of Shawn Andrews, the Eagles longtime right guard. So imagine my shock when I opened the paper and saw that Andrews, too, is now accusing a former teammate — none other than Eagles great Donovan McNabb — of years of harassment. 

    I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a geek. I wear that mantle proudly. So it’s a good thing I don’t spend my time in an NFL locker room.

    To me, being a geek means being really into something — sometimes a little too into it. I’ve had tons of these hobbies/obsessions over the years — fencing, beer brewing, cycling. Being a geek doesn’t just mean I like these things. It means I like talking about them. It means liking the culture of that thing.

    As an adolescent, being a geek can be alienating. As an adult, in my life, it’s a non-issue, especially in the intellectual and often obsessive culture of a newsroom. Not so, apparently, in the NFL.

    A stand-out athlete

    When I first heard about the alleged bullying of Miami Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin, my reaction was: This guy reminds me of Shawn Andrews, the Eagles longtime right guard.

    So imagine my shock when I opened the paper and saw that Andrews, too, is now accusing a former teammate — none other than Eagles great Donovan McNabb — of years of harassment.

    If you don’t remember Andrews from his playing days, here’s a refresher: The 6’4, 330 lb. guard was taken by the Eagles 16th overall in the 2004 draft — an extraordinarily high pick for a guard. I remember thinking at the time: “This guy must be something special.”

    He was. The fleet-footed lineman was probably one of the most athletic the Eagles have ever had. He earned three pro-bowl trips, and though injuries plagued his career, he largely maintained the starting role at right guard during his Eagles tenure.

    No matter. Andrews claims McNabb made his time on the Eagles a “living hell” and that he spread rumors that Andrews was gay.

    No geeks allowed

    As a football fanatic, I followed Andrews’ career and have known for a long time that he was unlike other NFL players. He was obsessed with the sarcasm of “SpongeBob Square Pants.” (Perhaps a lineman sleeping under a SpongeBob comforter seemed a bit odd to his teammates.) Now retired, Andrews is attempting to launch a new career — in standup comedy.

    I don’t know if the Dolphins’ Martin has such eccentric hobbies, but he’s definitely brainy, having majored in classics at Stanford and coming from a heady pedigree of Harvard grads.

    In 2008, Andrews took a leave of absence from the Eagles to deal with what were later revealed to be severe bouts of depression. Some in the NFL, as well as outside commentators, called him “soft” and “overly sensitive,” adjectives similar to those used by some to describe Martin. We had no idea at the time what was going on in Andrews’ head — and what his experience was on that team. In hindsight, the pieces fit.

    I will not lay the blame with any particular player, coach or group. I didn’t have eyes or ears in that locker room. But it seems very clear to me that something is rotten in a football culture where someone who doesn’t fit the stereotypical jock mold — even those as physically gifted as Andrews and Martin — can feel so ostracized. There is no doubt in my mind that these atypical athletes were bullied and harassed to a startling degree.

    Coupled with revelations about the potential long-term damage of repeated head trauma, these stories about casting out those who are different in the locker room make me feel more conflicted than ever about my incurably geeky football obsession.

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