During a 14-minute phone interview Wednesday, Donovan McNabb reacted to the accusation that he was a locker-room bully, that he had spread a salacious and malicious rumor about a teammate, with a sense of surprise that soon gave way to exasperation.
Shawn Andrews had told 97.5 The Fanatic (WPEN-FM) and a Little Rock, Ark., newspaper that McNabb had helped to make his career with the Eagles a living hell. The two were teammates here from 2004 to 2010 — a period during which Andrews played 50 games at guard, was selected to two Pro Bowls, sustained debilitating back and leg injuries, and grappled with depression.
During that time, Andrews told Sync magazine, McNabb “was degrading to me and spread rumors,” including one that Andrews was gay. According to Andrews, during the Eagles’ 2008 training camp, McNabb also rolled his eyes as Andrews addressed the team to reveal that he was receiving treatment for depression.
“That is ridiculous,”McNabb said. “I don’t know what comments you expect to get from me, but that is news to me and completely false. For me to bully anybody, that sounds unbelievable. ...
“I don’t really understand why this would come about, one, and two, how this would even be an accusation. If there’s anything I can say, I was more than open to Shawn. I always tried to be open to all the guys. I’d invite them over to my house. I’d have holiday dinners or team functions, especially for the offense, every year. I’d buy all the guys gifts, if I made the Pro Bowl or not, for an appreciation. Shawn was one of the most talented offensive linemen we had. I was always happy to have him.”
Reached on his cellphone Wednesday, Andrews stood by his comments about McNabb.
“I just did it for my conscience, man,” said Andrews, a University of Arkansas alumnus who lives in Little Rock with his wife and son. “I did it for my freaking conscience, man. The normal thing to do is deny it, especially if I was in that position. So many people are coming at me, defending him because of his superstar status, but they didn’t work with him. Shawn Andrews worked with him and for him. I laid it on the line for him.”
Andrews’ pair of interviews came after allegations that Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito had harassed and terrorized teammate Jonathan Martin. Now, Andrews is the latest in a long list of McNabb antagonists — Rush Limbaugh, Terrell Owens, J. Whyatt Mondesire, Bernard Hopkins — and he has tied the man who is arguably the best quarterback in Eagles history to the most charged story of this NFL season.
“Does this seem kind of odd that all of a sudden my name would pop up in a situation like this?” McNabb said. “I haven’t played with Shawn in years. I haven’t said anything bad. It’s odd to me because again, my name is a lightning rod anytime it’s mentioned. If there were issues that were going on, wouldn’t that have come out?
“I don’t believe bullying answers anything. I’m really taken aback by this whole accusation.”
To many in the hyper-masculine world of the NFL, the suggestion that a teammate is homosexual would be regarded as a slur, and quarterback Jeff Garcia, who in 2006 replaced McNabb as the Eagles’ starter after McNabb injured his knee, would have been sensitive to such an accusation.
In 2004, Owens, who’d been Garcia’s teammate with the San Francisco 49ers, implied in an interview with Playboy Magazine that Garcia was gay. But Garcia said Wednesday that he “never saw or heard anything along those lines come out of Donovan or where Shawn was unhappy or felt like he was being discriminated against in any sort of way.
“Donovan was a very playful, joking individual,”Garcia said. “He always seemed to be goofing around in the locker room. He even took it too far at times, I think, in goofing around on the field during actual games. But that’s how Donovan was, and I never saw anything negative or evil come out of him.”
Two other Eagles from that era, running backs Brian Westbrook and Reno Mahe, said Wednesday that they never heard McNabb discuss Andrews’ sexuality and don’t believe he mistreated Andrews or gossiped about him.
“I don’t ever remember seeing that,”Mahe said. Andrews does. He described a culture of cliques throughout the Eagles’ locker room, men who would praise one another publicly, then disparage one another once the cameras and microphones were gone.
“I was treated like s —, pardon my language,”Andrews said. “These guys say, ‘These are my teammates. We’re going to war.’ How do you demean somebody like that who’s got your back? ... I fought my (butt) off for 5, and I just felt there was a negative energy from the first time I met that dude.”
McNabb, in fact, was the only player Andrews mentioned by name for having treated him badly — all those teammates over Shawn Andrews’ six years with the Eagles, and only one name. So here we are again: Donovan McNabb, singled out for criticism, at the center of controversy and wondering how he got there. It never ends, does it? It just never ends.