In the last few days a couple of off-the-field incidents have prompted water cooler chats all over Washington. One was the deactivation of Redskins starter and No. 1 draft choice, Sean Taylor, after his arrest for driving while intoxicated. The other was Chamique Holdsclaw's explanation that the reason she walked out on the Mystics was because she is suffering from depression.
As a sports columnist I am supposed to have an opinion on almost everything, almost immediately. But in each of these cases my opinion is different now than when I first learned of them. Last week I wondered if Joe Gibbs was grandstanding by booting Taylor off the team for the Green Bay game. After all, these are the pros, not college. The object here is to win, not write a morality play. And a 2-4 team (at the time) could sure use a great young safety against Brett Favre. Plus, whatever happened to being innocent until proven guilty? Didn't Taylor -- for that matter, doesn't anyone -- have the right to keep his job before his case is adjudicated?
Last week I was thinking it would be best for all concerned if the Mystics and Holdsclaw parted company. Above all, I hoped Holdsclaw would recover fully from her depression. Beyond that, I thought a fresh start would do all parties good. After all, she had walked out on her team during the season without any explanation to her teammates or her coach. Moreover, she specifically requested the information be kept from them. How could you trust her as a teammate after that? And since the Mystics actually did better without Holdsclaw -- once they knew she was gone for good, they rallied and made the playoffs -- why bring her back? Why not just say, "Good luck," and press on without her?
Now, after some time to think about it, I believe Gibbs did the right thing in suspending Taylor. And I believe the Mystics would do the right thing by inviting Holdsclaw back. (I also think the Red Sox have a chance against the Yankees, and it wouldn't surprise me if Shaq and Kobe aren't both with the Lakers this year.) In either case, ultimately, it's about sending the right message.
What has crippled the Redskins in recent years has been instability. There have been too many coaching changes and too many player changes. The Redskins have followed a failed philosophy, acting like they were always just one big move away from a championship. All the instability led to a breakdown of discipline, and an emphasis on individuality -- never more obvious than the case of Bruce Smith caring more about his sack record than his team's goals.
This team needs leadership from the top. And while I'm not at all certain that Joe Gibbs would have acted similarly in his first go-round, and suspended someone for a DWI, I am certain he did the right thing here. Sean Taylor is a young player with great potential. But he has already demonstrated a dangerous tendency to set himself apart from his peers. (Remember how he blew off some league-required rookie seminars?) One of the concerns folks had about Gibbs coming back to coach was how would he deal with the "modern player."
This sends a message to Taylor and everyone else on the team that the Redskins are going to stand for something besides opportunism. It says that no matter how badly the season is going, the team won't look the other way at selfish, problematic behavior. It says: Here's the line. If you cross it, you don't play.
Finally, something around this team feels like a long-term philosophy.
If Gibbs's action cost his team a game now, so be it. Especially if it turns a player (and maybe the culture of losing softly and easily, without consequence, that settled in here over the last decade) around. Gibbs has been away from coaching for a long time -- long enough that winning isn't automatic. Maybe Gibbs needs to reestablish himself. To most of these players Gibbs is a NASCAR guy. They have heard of Joe Gibbs. But they don't know him. Now they will.
The Holdsclaw situation is dicier. She walked out on her teammates, and hid the reason from them and their coach. It could be they have no stomach to trust her anymore. They may wish her well in her struggle with depression, but not want her back. The fact is Holdsclaw has missed lots of games over lots of years here -- for both physical and personal reasons -- and the Mystics didn't do jack when she was playing. Why risk more disappointment with her? Surely you'd be doing Holdsclaw a favor by removing her from the scene that might constantly remind her of her battle with depression.
But let's look at the circumstances. If this were an injury, there'd be no question that the Mystics would want Holdsclaw back. She's their best player. When healthy, she's one of the best players in the league. But it's an emotional problem, not a physical one. That's tricky, and it makes people uncomfortable.
Yet it's not an emotional problem like Shaq and Kobe was an emotional problem -- where they hated each other so much that one of them had to go. Depression can happen to anyone. And the embarrassing nature of its hold on a person can make a person do things out of self-protection that he or she wouldn't normally do. Chamique Holdsclaw has a right to privacy. I think she should have told her teammates and coaches what was happening. But I appreciate why she didn't.
Now that Holdsclaw's medical condition is out on the table, I suspect women may be more sympathetic as teammates than men. (Case in point: Ricky Williams and the Dolphins.) Let's not demonize someone with depression. If Holdsclaw can explain to her teammates and coaches why she acted the way she did, and they can forgive her, why can't she play here? Come on, this is Washington, home of the second chance. No matter what you do after you're elected, you expect to be reelected. Like Bush.
But Tony, a few days ago you'd have played Sean Taylor and sent Chamique Holdsclaw packing. You've flip-flopped, just like Kerry.
It's a great country, isn't it?