NFL players spend arguably more time with players and coaches than they do their family or friends. In a way, especially during the season, the people who know them best are their teammates and coaches.
For that reason, when a beat writer or ESPN crew walks into the locker room to profile any player — be it the All-Pro quarterback or just a practice squad guy trying to make the team — it’s his teammates who almost always serve as character witnesses.
But there’s a clear distinction between offering an opinion on a teammate’s work ethic or talent (or lack thereof) and telling tales out of school. And in the past month Minnesota Vikings guard Alex Boone has shown why.
Early in the preseason during a radio interview on KFAN, Boone responded to the news about the resurgence of Terrelle Pryor as a wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns by (twice) asking, “He’s still playing!?” Pryor and Boone were teammates at Ohio State during the 2008 season. Before his seemingly shocked response Boone shared harsh thoughts on the former number one quarterback college recruit in the nation who eventually left Columbus amidst scandal.
“I could not stand any minute with him,” he said. “The kid was so arrogant at the time. I hated everything about him.”
Boone’s entitled to his opinion, and as a rabid supporter of his alma mater, he has a justified bone to pick with Pryor. After all, Pryor’s selfishness and immaturity led to his banishment from the program in 2011, just a few months before the start of the Buckeyes’ worst season in 23 years.
But what’s a bit perplexing about the comments made by Boone — who prior to entering the NFL was twice arrested for alcohol-related incidents — is what he said just a few minutes before being asked about Pryor. Giving his interviewers some insight into why he went undrafted following a great career at Ohio State, he explained that being “immature” and “a lot of drinking” were the cause until he “woke up.” It’s a bit curious that Boone acknowledges his own youthful indiscretions but not Pryor’s. Who’s to say Pryor hasn’t woken up, and that’s why he has started blossoming in Cleveland.
A few weeks later, Boone was asked about another exceptionally talented, controversy-mired quarterback for whom he used to block. Colin Kaepernick and Boone were teammates with the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-15. As the news of Kaepernick’s Star Spangled Banner protest mushroomed, Boone became a natural source for reporters, partly because he isn’t shy, but also because he’s no longer Kaepernick’s teammate. The two don’t have to face each other on a daily basis.
Boone said, “That flag obviously gives (Kaepernick) the right to do whatever he wants. I understand it. At the same time, you should have some (expletive) respect for people who served, especially people that lost their life to protect our freedom….It’s shameful.”
Just as Kaepernick has the right to protest, people have the right to express their outrage at his protest, which is exactly what Boone is doing. But Boone’s criticism of Kaepernick might not be as simple as disagreeing with a former teammate.
Boone implied that if he were still in San Francisco and shared a sideline with Kaepernick the situation might have escalated. “I’m a very emotional person,” he said. “So I think if I had known that, my emotions would have been rolling. We probably would have had a problem.”
In the wake of Kaepernick’s protest, at least two additional NFL players have joined in. Seattle’s Jeremy Lane did not stand for the anthem last week. Neither did Kaepernick’s 49ers teammate Eric Reid. There is a good chance that Kaepernick’s cause will continue to spread, perhaps even to the Minnesota Vikings. How will Boone react if one of his teammates refuses to stand for the anthem? It’s not going to be a purely “emotional” response for him, considering he’s already stated his disdain for Kaepernick’s stance.
Even if they are working towards the exact same goal of winning a title, all 53 players on an NFL roster are not going to be friends. They may not even get along. And they don’t need to in order to win football games. But knowing that someone on your team has no problem speaking out against a former teammate only breeds mistrust and animosity in a place where each can be tremendously destructive.