It’s a good thing Brian Waters missed his charity event last week. Had he not, his detractors would have had to stick to their story of all being forgiven if he showed up for minicamp. Now they have fresh ammo, and they’re clinging to their guns. Before last Wednesday, Waters was expendable on account of his diminished play (never mind that 2008 was, statistically speaking, the second-best year of his career, or that he was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl). Now he’s expendable on account of his questionable moral fiber (never mind that he’s donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to this charity) and his lack of commitment to the team (never mind that he’s in Kansas City, practicing).
For such a busy offseason, business sure is slow.
The problem is that there is no legitimate controversy for reporters and fans to discuss. Head coach Todd Haley says that there’s an open competition at every position, but there isn’t. All the rhetoric in the world won’t earn Tyler Thigpen a shot at starting. With no substantive player controversy (Connor Barth v. Ryan Succop doesn’t count), the next resort is to seek out an antihero. Larry Johnson graciously and selflessly assumes that role every offseason, but unless pumping the nickel slots with Ryan Seacrest in Vegas counts as egregious behavior (I’m willing to entertain that argument if you’d like to make it), it looks as though he’s taken a sabbatical. For now.
Jason Whitlock is a hungry man (no, this isn’t the beginning of a fat joke). He’s hungry for information, and he’s accustomed to being fed frequently. So is the rest of the KC sports media. For years they’ve been conditioned to anticipate a week’s worth of material any time the head coach or GM opened his mouth. Not so anymore. The pack is accustomed to steak and lobster, but Haley and GM Scott Pioli are feeding them cold porridge instead. It’s no wonder, then, that when Brian Waters gave Whitlock a morsel by confiding in him his frustration with his first interaction with his new coach, Whitlock smelled the heavenly aroma of lump charcoal, mesquite, and drawn butter.
Thus, a controversy was born. Whitlock, with no direct quotation and no outside corroboration, impugned the reputation of the team’s only returning 2008 Pro Bowler and longest tenured vet. He posted the story on the Star’s website shortly before midnight. By 1 a.m. it was already hotly debated on forums and message boards. By the following afternoon Bob Gretz had already denounced Waters as having failed Haley’s and Pioli’s expectations. The press ate it up. Fans did too. Steak and lobster indeed.
In the interim, every action or inaction Waters made was scrutinized. He never spoke a word of rebuttal, which tacitly implied (and probably rightly so) that every word Whitlock wrote was true. Brian Waters was a crybaby and a quitter. This was confirmed by his decision to skip OTAs. The fact that he seldom attends them didn’t play into the assessment. There was no similar vitriol levied at Mike Vrabel, who also abstained from the voluntary workouts. This anti-Waters sentiment was exclusionary of all outside rationale, and, as is customary with any vilification of a scorned athlete, the impugnment of his character was paired with the impugnment of his ability.
That, to me, was curious, because a lot of Chiefs fans have never watched Brian Waters play. Most fans don’t watch the left guard. It’s the position that the casual observer’s eyes are least likely to be drawn to because so little of the action happens on that part of the field. The left guard doesn’t serve as the primary run blocker on most plays, nor does he singlehandedly engage top flight pass rushers. The position is mostly about eating space and helping draw fire from the guys on either side. Thus, even if a left guard has a good game, sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish that he’s done so.
Then again, if you look at his stat line, there’s not much mystery to the matter. He allowed a single sack in 2008. The team averaged 4.8 yards per carry, good for 2nd in the NFL. Unless Waters’ detractors are going to arbitrarily attribute that success to the singular efforts of Adrian Jones, maybe they had better consider adopting the position that the guy with the four leis from the four trips to Hawaii might not be so bad, even without Will Shields, Willie Roaf, and Casey Wiegmann to prop him up.