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Whenever the local NFL team has another public catastrophe, I—and probably every ex-employee—get dozens of texts and Gchats and calls and Facebook messages from former co-workers. The basic message is, inevitably, “Thank god we’re not there anymore, huh?” But after GM Scot McCloughan’s ouster and the subsequent anonymously sourced report in The Washington Post that he was fired for showing up drunk to work multiple times in 18 months, it occurred to me just how many of the anecdotes that come up in those conversations are drinking stories.
I had to get my suit shipped back from Seattle once. This was relatively early in my time with the team, early enough that, despite being a perpetually disheveled blogger, I hadn’t talked my way out of the “wear-a-suit-on-the-plane-for-a-road-trip” rules. So we got to Seattle, and I put my suit in the closet because I certainly wasn’t wearing it unless forced to.
The night before the game, after watching the walkthrough during the day and presumably posting some kind of local color piece, I went out for drinks with my co-workers. Way too many drinks, I guess, because the next morning my roommate had to wake me up so I wouldn’t miss the last bus to the stadium, and in the ensuing rush I forgot to take my suit out of the closet. This was not a secret around the office—I was deservedly mocked for weeks, long after the suit showed up in a FedEx pack, rumpled and sad.
It was a drinking kind of job.
Another city, another road trip, another late night out with co-workers at exactly the type of bar I’d generally avoid, crowded with amped-up bro-dudes with fake IDs or fresh off their 21st birthdays, a place with a lot of shtick and loud music and a mechanical bull.
There was a bachelorette party there, the veil pinned in the bride’s hair whipping back and forth as she clung to the mechanical bull. And when her ride finished, the next person to jump on was a defensive player from the team, out well past his curfew. This was unusual but not exactly unheard of. He played the next day, no worse than usual.
A couple of years later in Atlanta, there was an incredibly ill-advised evening at one of the parties the team throws for its high-level customers—the suite holders and their ilk—with an open bar where the bartender was pouring whiskey into pint glasses. I made an ass out of myself in maybe 12 different ways, as did any number of other people.
My mental image of Bruce Allen—the picture that comes up on the iPhone of my mind when I hear his name—is of him at some event, maybe Mark Rypien’s golf tournament, holding court at the bar with the top buttons of his shirt undone and a Heineken in his hand.
A waiter at another event, at one of the high-priced chain steakhouses, hurried past me carrying a single glass on a tray, up some stairs and toward the door. When he came down a minute later, still holding the glass, he explained what was up: It was Mr. Dan Snyder’s drink—Johnnie Walker Blue, I believe—which he liked to have waiting as soon as he walked in.
The best flight back on the team plane was smoothed out by miniature bottles of vodka, quietly distributed by a veteran player from a pillowcase full of libations.
None of this seemed inappropriate in any way. As in any high-stress, round-the-clock environment, limited downtime almost has to be enhanced with a relaxation aid of some kind. And there was no stigma attached to it, aside from some frat house ribbing when you, for example, left a suit 3,000 miles away.
Maybe it’s like that everywhere around the NFL—I’m not sure. But I know this franchise has a long history of drinking—think of Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer competing for the QB spot by day and throwing back beers by night, the Five O’Clock club of the Joe Gibbs era, or the eight million anecdotes about John Riggins. (Drinking beer at 7 a.m. when Gibbs came to woo him back to the team or drunkenly pissing into the air and all over himself during a team meeting or, most legendarily, telling Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to “Loosen up, Sandy baby.”)
Given all that, I thought there were two ways to look at the team’s decision to employ McCloughan, a gifted talent evaluator with a documented history of alcohol abuse who admitted in a magazine profile just before being hired that he still drinks beer.
One option is that it’s a terrible place for someone with those proclivities, that any existing drinking would scale up to the tenor of the building. The other, more counterintuitive option is that it was a safe space for him, a place where taking a few drinks wouldn’t be held against him and minor missteps could be dismissed with a boys-will-be-boys wink as long as he performed his job adequately.
Maybe both occurred at the same time. Either way, what was required was moderation, in a work environment that doesn’t lend itself to that at all.