Coach's Corner

And then I began to fall so low,
lost all my money, had no place to go...
-- "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out"

Sportswriters, let's admit, won't be on the top of many Sensitive New Age Guy lists, nor are they likely to be spotted leading the chants at a Men-Finding-Their-Inner-Selves meeting in the deep rainforests of coastal Oregon. In fact, the stereotypical male sportswriter -- divorced, slovenly, badly out of shape, and bitterly cynical of Santa, leprechauns, and the Easter bunny, indelibly stamped in our conscious by Walter Matthau's portrayal of Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple -- has more than a little truth in it. Sportswriters are not the most likely sub-group of the American population to be attending group therapy sessions or keeping the psychologist's couch warm.

So, I guess it's not so shocking, the male-oriented, jock-eyed view of Michael Irvin's pathetic press conference last week. Irvin, a fellow I think we all will concede is stuffed full of good old American machismo, told the assembled world he had a problem. He said, in short, he was not mentally up for playing football right now. He seemed honestly confused by this epiphany. He allowed that he lacks the intensity and emotion he used to have. When asked by the cynical assemblage of Dallas media how he was going to walk away from a $5 million contract he said, "Honestly, I don't know exactly what I'm going to do."

I listened to the press conference. Irvin, at many times on the brink of tears, appeared genuine and vulnerable. I can use these words, you see, because after eight years of various sorts of female-driven and -directed therapies, I've long since had any and all red-blooded male shame for these girlish adjectives slowly but remorselessly squeezed from my soul. Irvin volunteered that his weekly schedule, these days, consists of a meeting with his probation officer, several random drugs tests and biweekly meetings with a -- female, I'll wager -- psychiatrist. No mention in this schedule of weight-room workouts, interesting nights out with his pals attending art gallery openings, cello recitals, and whatnot.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Knowing me, a rabid Cowboy-hater with never an understanding word for anyone who ever wore the blue star on their head, you sense I'm right smack in the middle of a sarcastic, anti-Irvin screed but you're uncertain how I'm going to get there. Knowing, as you must, the one characteristic I most certainly share with my sportswriter brethren in its most dangerous and virulent form is cynicism. Witness my consistently negative and gloom-filled predictions for my team, the Bulls. I believe and trust absolutely nothing. It was largely this unfortunate personality quirk that first landed me in therapy. Thus, I can speak with some authority, some considerable expertise, on what's up with Mike. The Playmaker is depressed, clear and simple.

I caution you again, I'm not trying to be funny. If you've never been badly depressed, it's difficult to understand what it's about. This explains all the silly media-chatter, as people try to sort out what's wrong with Irvin. I've read and listened to respected columnists imply Irvin is too lazy and spoiled to report to the Cowboy camp. That this theory totally contradicts his career-long, well-documented reputation as one of the hardest working, focused workaholics in the game is beside the point, I guess. Then, there's the theory that this is a ploy to get himself traded. If he just didn't report to camp this might make some sense, but after that bizarre news conference? There's some speculation he wants more money, though he well knows the Cowboys have none to give. Finally, there's an incomprehensible suggestion Irvin needs to quit football so he can join Erik Williams' suit against a Dallas TV station and the police department. Has Williams quit the team? This is all understandable speculation of a guy-dominated media, trying to find guy-solutions, to gratify the guy need to find a reason, any reason, for what they don't understand.

In the past year, Irvin's life has been turned upside down. He's seen his already soiled reputation irreparably sullied from the infamous encounter with the DPD. He's been suspended for half the season. He's been accused by much of the world -- unjustly -- of raping someone at gunpoint. His personal life is in shambles. He's now treated as a poisonous three-eyed rat by the very community which placed him on such a lofty pedestal in the first place.

I've never had anything good to say, and rightly so, about Michael Irvin the person. He's made many poor choices, which are now coming home to roost. Still, I'd expect, here in the heart of the country where he made invaluable contributions to three Dallas football championships, a little more compassion. After all, it's not like he killed someone.

That man on the podium was not #88, the much-vaunted Playmaker, only a depressed guy doing group therapy on a world-wide stage. So, let's emote with Michael. Let's empathize with Michael. And, finally, let's try to feel his pain and see him come to a cathartic resolution of his inner crises. Let's be there for Mike.

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