Andre Reed made an apology on Friday.
Why would a retired star receiver need to issue an apology the day before one of the biggest days of his life, the culmination of four Super Bowl appearances, seven Pro Bowls and numerous NFL records?
Andre Reed apologized because he had an opinion. Two of them, really. Specifically, he said “Man, fuck Bon Jovi” due to the rocker’s involvement with a group of investors bidding on the Buffalo Bills who are integral to Toronto sports. Reed also had the gall to point out that Johnny Manziel wasn’t “Johnny Football” yet, that he was merely “Johnny Rookie Bitch” to a man about to have a bust of his likeness enshrined in Canton. Both are fair opinions to have; Manziel is indeed a rookie in a league that eats college stars alive, and yes, fuck the public face of an ownership group who might move the Bills from their Buffalo home. Yet he had to apologize because the NFL will not, cannot stand for one person within the professional football fraternity disparage another member, even if one is nothing than a glorified fan with monied friends and the other still hasn’t taken a snap in a game.
Reed’s full quotes are glorious, which makes it even more unfathomable that he had to apologize for them:
“Man, fuck Bon Jovi!” Reed said. “You might as well just take this city, throw it in the river, and let it go down Niagara Falls.”
“Who the fuck is Johnny Manziel?” Reed asked. “LeBron ain’t your guy! You’re not ‘Johnny Football.’ You’re ‘Johnny Rookie Bitch.’ ” Reed said he didn’t think a blue-collar town like Buffalo, which he thought wears an even truer shade of denim than Cleveland, would stand for Manziel’s antics. “They’d boo that motherfucker outta here,” he said. “The fans would put him in his place.”
Outspoken, raw, and playing to the fans that make the NFL so unbelievably profitable. More importantly the remarks are truthful and funny, a rare combination from even the most polished of pundits.
Maybe it’s because we haven’t seen Reed much on the national stage over the past decade that we have collectively forgotten what he was like in front of the camera, but Reed’s sense of humor, his magnetic personality and a willingness to say what is on his mind are all traits sorely missing from the league’s elder statesmen these days. His comments were not the dry soundbites we get out of most former players, even the ones deemed entertaining enough to be put in studio shows; each ensemble cast as overly serious and tonally flat as the next. (Do not mistake loud for tone and nuance. Every NFL show is louder than the next and by the time we get to John William’s bombastic French horns on Sunday night we no longer even recognize that we’ve been yelled at for the past ten hours.)
No, Reed’s quotes sound more like one the best sports analysts ever to work both sides of the table, as a player and as a broadcaster, the quality of which the NFL has not had in a long time.
Andre Reed sounded like Charles Barkley, and if there is a league that needs its own Charles Barkley, it’s the NFL.
You cannot compare a single former NFL player working at ESPN, Fox, CBS, the NFL Network or NBC to Charles Barkley. If Terry Bradshaw was sitting at the opposite end of the set from Peyton Manning after criticizing Manning’s play in the Super Bowl, do you think he would continue to hammer on what the Broncos did wrong and debate Manning on game strategy like Charles Barkley did with NBA superstar Kobe Bryant? Would Deion Sanders look at Troy Aikman and say, “You know, you’re not even a top five Cowboy of all time,” much like Barkley said to his fellow analyst Shaquille O’Neal?
No, they wouldn’t. Instead we are stuck with fawning, disingenuous, THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE IS SERIOUS BUSINESS soundbites that are forgotten before the words can melt away into the aether. Sack of sanctimonious seawater Peter King gets to be lead arbiter of which players are worth our time, which generally means players that make sure they give him their time.
The biggest NFL name to join the broadcast world this season? Brady Quinn. The hot takes from a player who appeared in twenty-four games over eight years and was working out for the New England Patriots just a week ago should be lukewarm enough to make a weak cup of chamomile. Brady Quinn isn’t the former player who asks Rex Grossman what went wrong on the fumbled snap in the Super Bowl, he asks what it is like to play in the Super Bowl and could Rex sign this program — “It’s fine, feel free to sign anywhere” — for him.
Instead of forcing Andre Reed into issuing a halfhearted apology saying he didn’t know he was on the record while talking to a reporter (seriously?), the league should celebrate him for his honesty and the humanization of what we’re all thinking as fans about NFL matters. Even his apology was colorful and honest:
“On the other end of that, Johnny Manziel is a rookie; he hasn’t done anything yet,” Reed continued. “And people in Buffalo don’t want Bon Jovi to buy the team and move it. So basically I said stuff people would maybe say.”
At some point, the NFL has to allow its broadcast partners to speak freely and without fear about controlling how they’re being discussed. Has Charles Barkley made the NBA any less popular? No, his remarks are discussed for days after airing and are quite often the best highlights of the night, even above the games. At a time when the NFL is being hammered on so many critical fronts — player safety, player conduct and ownership responsibilities — by outsiders, it’s time for the league to stop expecting its partners to be part of their unified “there’s nothing bad to see here — keep moving, keep moving” PR machine and accept criticism from their own. Take jokes from their own. Allow the cheers to rise up as they did when Reed made his Hall of Fame induction speech saying, “And the Bills are staying in Buffalo.”
Someone take the intelligent, funny and personable Andre Reed and put him in front of a camera to talk about football as he sees it, both as one of the greatest players to ever play in the NFL and as a fan. Don’t make him apologize for saying a rookie is just a rookie, no matter what his contract money says. Don’t make him feign happiness over an ownership group who may not have Buffalo’s best interests emotionally at heart. Let him press our current stars on their game and let him say where he thought they went wrong to their face for a change.
Instead of showing that the league has personality by having Roger Goodell wander stadium tailgates in Shield-branded “everyman” fleece jackets, allow an icon to speak for the fans. Let the NFL have Andre Reed.