Regardless of the eventual outcome, I’m wondering if the previously squeaky-clean image of Wilson is going to wind up sullied by all this commotion. It seems unavoidable, the longer this drags on — even if you believe it’s much ado about little.
When you take a stance like the quarterback has, perceived as pitting himself against the team, you are forcing people to take sides. And they’re not always going to take yours. Fans by their very nature have considerable emotional investment in their ballclubs — and sometimes that loyalty runs deeper than it does to individual players. Even the beloved ones. After all, players come and go, but teams are eternal.
What makes this so fascinating is that Wilson, who will enter his 10th NFL season in 2021, has largely skated above the fray. An ESPN profile last season characterized him as “Saint Russ” and “America’s last Grown Man boy scout.”
While that was obviously hyperbole, it reflected the consensus viewpoint. You could nitpick his quarterbacking, but Wilson’s devotion to the Seahawks and the manner in which he conducted his business were beyond reproach.
Now some cracks are appearing in that narrative. This is just anecdotal, but I’ve gotten more anti-Wilson emails in the last month than in the previous five years combined. Maybe it’s just human nature, but people suddenly feel the need to point out his perceived flaws. I’m even getting a rash of “he’s too short to see over the offensive line” takes, which I thought Wilson had put to rest with years of outstanding play.
Wilson has also had some of his peers casting aspersions in his direction. Hall of Famer Walter Jones said on KJR that Wilson should have kept his grievances in-house. And Michael Robinson, a running back on the Seahawks during Wilson’s first two seasons, tweeted, “…how does #RussellWilson walk back into a locker room where he is saying the Oline stinks and he has no weapons?? The @Seahawks brass has literally given the team to Russ. AND he has been paid…twice! What else does he want.”
The reference was to Wilson’s implication that the Seahawks need to improve their offensive line because he’s getting hit too much — 47 sacks this past season, and 394 in his career. It was a startling stance from a guy who normally, when asked an innocuous question about a position group, effusively praises each member of the unit, right down to the third-stringer and the guys on the practice squad.
Now Wilson definitely risks raising the hackles of the very people who will once again be asked to protect him in the upcoming season. Because even if the Seahawks heed his admonition and get reinforcements on the line, they’re not going to replace everyone. And those linemen who return certainly read and heard those comments.
It’s kind of ironic that the tipping point for all this venting of dissatisfaction by Wilson and his camp appears to be his appearance at the Super Bowl between Tampa Bay and Kansas City. According to various theories, Wilson either was reacting to the frustration of seeing Tom Brady win his seventh Lombardi Trophy while he remains stuck at one, or the reality of viewing a quarterback under siege as the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes was for the entire game.
And what brought Wilson to the Super Bowl was the honor of receiving the most prestigious humanitarian award the NFL bestows: The Walter Payton Man of the Year.
It’s important to reflect on what earned Wilson that title — his wide range of community service and charitable work.
He and his wife, Ciara, founded a tuition-free public charter school, the Why Not You Academy, set to open near Seattle this fall. The Wilsons were heavily involved in COVID relief efforts, donating a million meals to Feeding America and Food Lifeline to help those impacted by the disease, as well as partnering with Wheels Up to create the Meals Up program that created 50 million meals. According to the Seahawks, Wilson’s Why Not You Foundation developed a program to deliver food and supplies to vulnerable populations in 175 communities around the country. That’s on top of Wilson’s ongoing work with Seattle Children’s Hospital.
All of that helps explain why Wilson has been beloved in Seattle, and those good deeds shouldn’t be forgotten or even diminished because he’s at odds with management. The other reason for Wilson’s popularity is that the Seahawks have gone 98-45-1 in his nine years, made the playoffs every year but one, won a Super Bowl and nearly won another.
The lack of recent playoff success has diluted the glow of Wilson’s success somewhat, but fans had little reason to doubt he wasn’t totally bought into the quest. That belief was punctuated by Wilson’s declaration of “Go Hawks!” at the end of each interview. The man who was coached in interview technique by his dad at a young age always seemed to say the right thing, convey the proper message. If anything, his optimism was viewed as corny or even phony — but it was unwavering.
In the aforementioned ESPN article, Wilson reflected on the Seahawks culture and said, “There’s just not very much negativity preached around here; it’s hard to articulate.”
What’s happening now is hard to articulate as well, but the crux is this: Wilson’s ongoing impasse with the Seahawks risks injecting negativity where it didn’t exist before; at least not publicly.
It’s still possible that this could be repaired, the Seahawks roar off to a great 2021 season, and Wilson resumes his status as “Saint Russ.” But for now, he’s going to have to withstand some previously nonexistent slings and arrows.