You’ve just been picked in the first round of the NFL draft, and are happier than you can ever remember. It wasn’t long ago that you were battling a heart condition while living in poverty, so you’re celebrating like a Powerball winner.
You get to Atlanta, ready to introduce yourself to the city whose fans have already smothered you with support. Then, a careless newspaper article slams you with an anonymous source.
This is what former Huskies offensive tackle Kaleb McGary just experienced. Less than 24 hours after he realized his dream, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a story about how he’s “socially awkward,” will “struggle being in a big city,” and once “pissed off” his Washington teammates by cutting the cord to the speaker system in the weight room.
We don’t know the source, and it’s doubtful we will. But there’s no doubt that the piece stained the rookie’s red carpet.
“Up until that point, I’d felt so welcome by the fans and stuff, and it was actually really cool,” McGary said. “Then all of a sudden it’s like, ‘Oh this guy’s really an asshole.’ I was like, ‘Ouch, man. I’ve been here a day!'”
In a story that gave a “D” grade to Atlanta’s first-round draft choices, AJC reporter D. Orlando Ledbetter talked to an “AFC personnel executive” about McGary and fellow Falcons first-rounder Chris Lindstrom. When asked if there was any “dirt” on either of them (and who asks that?), the executive responded with this.
“(McGary) has been socially awkward. It’s going to be a stretch for him coming in and because he’s not a bad kid, he’s just socially awkward. He’s from a small country town. He just struggles … He’s going to struggle being in a big city for a while.”
No stuff out on social media like Nick Bosa? Ledbetter asked, referring to the former Ohio State defensive lineman who was drafted second overall by the San Francisco 49ers and has been scrutinized for some tweets about political subjects.
“No,” the executive said of McGary. “He’s done some stuff that’s just been socially awkward. One day they play country music and one day they play R&B in the weight room. It was country day, and one of the blacks turned on R&B. (McGary) got pissed off and cut the cord to the whole speaker system in the weight room. All of the whites and blacks were pissed off at him because they couldn’t listen to (any) music. Socially awkward stuff. Not racist. He just has to grow up stuff.”
Uh … can you see why McGary might be ticked?
An anonymous source would have been fine if the info had been solely related to football. But it’s not OK when you’re dissecting a man’s character. And even if the source had gone on the record, he doesn’t seem to know much about the guy he’s slighting.
For starters, Seattle is a “big city” with about 200,000 more people than Atlanta, and McGary was here for five years. Pretty sure he adjusted.
Second, McGary was one of the best quotes on the Huskies — and suggesting he might be socially awkward is an easy way to make a former teammate chuckle.
“That guy is not socially awkward. That guy is one of the best guys I’ve ever been around,” Huskies guard Nick Harris said of McGary. “I have the most fun with that guy. Whoever wrote that does not know what he’s talking about.”
Added Huskies left tackle Trey Adams: “I’m sure the guy who said that is probably socially awkward.”
I reached out to Ledbetter, who seems like a nice enough guy, but he didn’t want to comment on anything in his piece. He just asked that it be known that, after the story came out, he asked McGary about the cord-cutting incident in person, but Kaleb declined to comment. McGary wouldn’t elaborate with me, either, but said to ask former teammates.
According to Adams, “white-boy Wednesdays” is when UW players listen to country and rock music in the locker room. But on one particular Wednesday five years ago, a player insisted on playing rap, which prompted McGary to pull out a buck knife and cut the auxiliary cord.
Weird? Yes. But Adams said it was a joke and that players were laughing.
Former Huskies defensive back Kevin King tweeted that he appreciated McGary taking the action he did in that situation, adding “that’s the type of o-lineman you want! He’s a GREAT teammate and better man.”
Former Huskies receiver John Ross came to his defense as well.
“Story not accurate,” Ross tweeted. “And this was like five years ago. Let the man live his moment.”
Can’t really put it better than that.
McGary lived in an RV in Fife after his family lost its farm during the Great Recession. He’s had three procedures to repair the heart arrhythmia that almost cost him his career. Then on Thursday, when the Falcons took him with the 31st pick, he became the first Husky offensive lineman to go in the first round in 26 years.
There was no reason to sully that.
Fortunately, McGary seems to have moved on. In fact, the support he’s received has almost heightened his dream come true.
“I actually feel pretty good about everything, though, because a lot of my fans have had my back on it,” McGary said. “And my teammates, Kevin King, John Ross, they leapt to my defense. It’s awesome. I can’t tell you how good that makes you feel inside.”
Sounds about right. McGary is 6 feet 7 and 317 pounds.
He’s always gonna be the bigger man.