Terrell Owens, Keyshawn Johnson, and now Albert Haynesworth. The three will be forever linked for their attempt to redefine petulance, and give ammunition to the casual observer who thinks all athletes are spoiled, arrogant, and selfish.
Congratulations, Albert. You left Tennessee for America’s capital, wanting to be the boss, and to be the coddled star whose status as the top defensive player was never questioned. There was, however, one oversight: money doesn’t buy the respect of teammates and coaches.
Years from now when we look back on the career of Haynesworth, and the tiny speck he occupied in the NFL’s history, we’ll remember two things: his stomping technique, and his addiction to petulance in Washington.
The Redskins finally ended their attempt to suppress the attitude and selfishness of Haynesworth, and suspended him for four games without pay on Tuesday afternoon, ending his season. The cited offence was “conduct detrimental to the team.”
He now joins the elite company of Owens and Johnson. All three have been sent to their sofas, with their respective teams choosing to win or lose without the diva act, and maintain unity and a positive team environment.
For Haynesworth, the couch is his safe haven anyway. It’s a place where his demeanour is disarmed, and his physical condition is at peace with its surroundings. He isn’t conditioned to play football; he’s conditioned to sit.
When Fat Albert first arrived in Washington, smiling pictures with replica Super Bowl trophies were snapped. It was like a loving couple on the first days of marriage, and the honeymoon between Haynesworth and the Redskins was great. But once the plane landed, reality was a cold, dark place, and divorce is now inevitable.
In February of 2009, Haynesworth was the most coveted free agent on the market. Redskins owner Dan Snyder–infamous for acting with his check book first, and asking questions later–handed Haynesworth a seven-year, $100 million contract. It was a death sentence that featured an NFL record $41 million in guaranteed money.
Haynesworth’s comments in his introductory press conference are now both comical, and depressing. The most laughable quote came when he defiantly said we’re “not going to remember Albert Haynesworth as a bust.”
But it gets better…
“With the contract, it’s going to be all on me,” Haynesworth said. “My goal is to be the best player on the field and to eventually get to that Hall of Fame status and be mentioned with Reggie White and Bruce Smith and all the greats.”
Spiderman operated under the mantra that with great power comes great responsibility. Money gave Haynesworth power, and he failed both on and off the field to be the responsible leader Washington craved.
Haynesworth’s sack total was cut in half during his first year in Washington, going from the 8.5 he had the previous year in Tennessee to just four. But under-performing can be tolerated as long as there’s the expectation of improvement.
The firing of Jim Zorn this past offseason led to the hiring of Mike Shanahan, and his 3-4 defensive scheme that Haynesworth loathed so passionately. Shanahan’s defence called for Haynesworth to be the middle tackle and occupy blockers, giving his linebackers opportunities to make plays. Most importantly, it called for Haynesworth to be an unselfish player who put the team ahead of his personal goals.
This is where the demise began.
Knowing Haynesworth’s distaste for the 3-4, Shanahan offered him a choice. He could have declined his $21 million bonus due last April, and depart merrily. Instead, he took the money, but the petulance continued, with Haynesworth later asking for a trade, and then taking 10 days to pass his conditioning test.
Haynesworth has missed five games this season due to injuries and personal matters. His lack of participation in practice led to a demotion, leaving the Redskins with a $100 million defensive player coming off the bench.
Then the “haters” started hating. Haynesworth believed there was a conspiracy in the organization to see him fail, a conspiracy that led to rumours of his alcohol over-indulgence prior to a practice last week. Lashing out, Haynesworth said someone in Washington obviously doesn’t like him.
Finally he was right about something, but it wasn’t some grand cover up. The angst in the locker room was clear, and very public. The lead spokesperson was veteran Phillip Daniels, a fellow defensive lineman who was quite candid about his feelings towards Haynesworth.
“He just needs to think about what he’s doing on the football part of things and know that people are counting on you. Not the coaches, not the organization, but your teammates are counting on you. That’s what I play for every day, my teammates. That’s the part of the game that slipped by Haynesworth.”
The final blow came when Haynesworth refused to speak to Shanahan, according to the head coach’s statement. Shanahan isn’t innocent in this either, and at times his interpersonal skills could have used some work. Often he reached for the iron fist instead of attempting diplomacy.
But diplomacy failed once miserably. Haynesworth flat out refused to cooperate or listen to his coaches. He refused to be part of a team, and a cohesive unit.
This time, Shanahan didn’t give Haynesworth a choice. Haynesworth will reportedly appeal his suspension, which will be a fruitless effort. His teammates and coaches just want him to go away.