A column by Sun Senior Sports Columnist CHUCK POLLOCK
Originally, this was going to be a column cautioning the Bills from even considering activating edge rusher Von Miller, the accused domestic abuser, for this afternoon’s game against the Chiefs at Kansas City.
And I’ll get to that.
But it’s been superseded by what happened Thursday. That’s when Tyler Dunne, one of my very best interns during many years as Olean Times Herald sports editor, dropped a three-part series on his website Go Long TD, entitled “The McDermott Problem.”
It was an indicting profile of Buffalo coach Sean McDermott, but one segment stood out to the Western New York media.
There was a story that, during a team meeting at the 2019 training camp in Rochester, McDermott used the 9-11 terrorists as an example of teamwork.
Response was virtually instantaneous as, after Thursday’s practice, McDermott held an impromptu press conference emphasizing the very day he made that inappropriate analogy, he subsequently offered an apology to the team.
And, during the press conference, to his credit, McDermott, didn’t try to spin or walk-back his original comments, he owned them, was profusely apologetic and appeared genuinely humbled and embarrassed.
That didn’t stop Dunne from being absolutely fileted by McDermott supporters on social media … the classic example of “shooting the messenger.”
They might not like what Tyler wrote, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong. And the proof is how quickly McDermott assembled the media to issue his apology.
It’s odd, when I read that anecdote, I wasn’t so much appalled as I was incredulous. “How,” I wondered, “would one of the greatest tragedies in American history become fodder for a speech to a football team about teamwork?”
Naturally, the story immediately became regional, but at some point it will be national, if only to point out McDermott’s lack of common sense.
But Dunne’s series will likely have more long-term fallout as, through dozens of interviews with players (current and former), coaches, scouts and administrators, a question emerges of whether McDermott has what it takes to be an NFL head coach.
In fairness, he presented both sides, giving ample print space to former fullback Patrick DiMarco, tight end Lee Smith and several assistant coaches who are all McDermott supporters, though they are clearly in the minority via Dunn’s reporting.
THIS HAS to be made clear.
When Tyler came to work for me as a sophomore at Ellicottville he was already an accomplished writer. He went on to Syracuse where he served as both the sports editor and managing editor for the Daily Orange. Upon graduation he worked in Fayetteville, NC, at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Buffalo News and won national awards at all of them.
He’s not some egotistical, hey-look-at-me, sports writer looking to get his name out there via controversy.
Tyler always most-enjoyed writing lengthy breakout pieces, took a gamble, and started Go Long, a paid site that focuses on pro football, in general, and more specifically, the Bills and Packers, two teams he knows well.
It should be noted, Dunne is no longer a member of the Bills media corps. He’s not credentialed by the team … no game-day access to the press box nor the media room during the week.
Technically, he’s not a member of the press, but rather a private entrepreneur.
That’s what makes his pieces so impressive … all those interviews were tracked down off-site with cooperative sources. But he also had one advantage … he didn’t have to name them.
Had Tyler worked for a newspaper, no way would that amount of anonymous sources, if any, have appeared in print. There would be overwhelming concern about liability issues.
Dunne bet on himself and his confidence that those sources were beyond credible, despite their understandable request for anonymity.
What he did was start a conversation, as McDermott is in his seventh — this one admittedly trying — season, about his future as coach of the Bills.
And it’s a talk worth having.
THEN THERE’S Miller.
He was addressed here yesterday but some amplification is in order.
To review, the 34-year-old edge rusher has been a total non-contributor since returning from knee surgery — one tackle, a single assist and a quarterback hit in 163 snaps — eight games ago.
That’s an inarguable reason for him to be inactive today against the Chiefs.
But there’s also this.
There are more than a half-dozen women (print and TV) who cover the team, dozens of female employees throughout the organization and hundreds of thousands of women who are Bills fans.
How do you think many of them will feel when, for the second time in two years, a player is charged with domestic abuse but permitted to play barely a week later.
Fact is, there’s only so much the Bills can do. Miller can’t be barred from the practice facilities without facing an issue with the NFL Players Association plus the league can’t suspend him without due process and the investigation is ongoing.
The best option, by far, is to let Miller practice and be inactive on game day … he still gets paid. Doing otherwise, given the player’s legal woes, and McDermott’s self-inflicted speech gaffe, merely inflates this team’s disarray.
Wednesday, general manager Brandon Beane addressed Miller’s situation.
“You never want anyone in your organization to have an allegation like that, it’s a very serious nature, we have to take every precaution … culture and character and all those things are super important.”
He added, in not the best choice of words, “But it’s also important to know that we have to let the legal process play out. If any of this were true, it would be out of character for the person we’ve known for the last year-and-a-half.”
As for deactivating Miller today, Beane said, “If you get into disciplining guys or sitting guys out without the right information, that can be a little bit dangerous too. We weren’t there, we’re not investigators … we’ve had our conversations with Von and what he believed happened.
“Every week we’re trying to put the best 48 players on the field to win, it doesn’t matter what the name or number is on your jersey. And if we feel Von is not one of the best 48 this week … (deactivating) is what we do.”
As for Miller’s reaction, Beane noted, “We’re comfortable with him being here and part of the team. No one wants their name associated with any accusation like that … I’m sure (Von’s) disappointed. Character is very important to us here in Buffalo. We want them all to be model citizens and never have their name in the police blotter, but things happen sometimes and we have to give them their fair due process.”
What about the potential blowback from women if he’s allowed to play?
“That’s an unfortunate part of it, you can’t control that,” he said. “The public has to understand we only have so much of the facts. And if you look around this country, you see plenty of rushes to judgment. You’re never going to make 100% of people happy. If we said ‘He can’t play’ there’d be people upset about that too. You make the best decisions you can and you have to live with them.”
McDermott actually followed Beane at that press conference and, as usual, said nothing.
When questioned about Miller, multiple times he resorted to “Brandon’s already addressed that” though grudgingly conceding, “It’s a very serious situation.”
If you find that an evasive, lame, tone-deaf, gutless response from the coach of the team, you should read Tyler Dunne’s series.
(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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