Dwayne Haskins was dehumanized in the wake of his tragic death | NFL

When Daniel Wilcox read ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweet posted to break the news of NFL quarterback Dwayne Haskins’ death, he thought about how some view athletes as mere entertainers without taking the time to see them as human.

“When you’re in the NFL, you’re just a piece of meat. You’re a name and you’re a number,” says Wilcox, who played tight end for the New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Baltimore Ravens.

Schefter caught backlash after listing Haskins’ career setbacks while reporting on his death, which occurred when the 24-year-old was hit by a truck in the early hours of Saturday morning.

“Dwayne Haskins, a standout at Ohio State before struggling to catch on with Washington and Pittsburgh in the NFL, died this morning when he got hit by a car in South Florida, per his agent Cedrick Saunders,” Schefter tweeted.

“Haskins has a family, and they’re hurting,” says Wilcox. “You’re pointing out a flaw in someone instead of embracing the fact that someone has just lost their life. There’s a level of insensitivity. With being a reporter, sometimes you want to be the first one to get it out and you don’t think about the people that you affect when you say things.”

The sports community spoke out against Schefter’s tweet, which was posted at a time when Haskins’ family, friends, and former teammates were taking in the enormity of his death. Schefter would eventually delete the tweet, but the damage was done.

Athletes such as Dez Bryant, Lamar Jackson, and former Ohio State University quarterback Cardale Jones all lashed out at Schefter on social media with Jones tweeting: “How about ‘Dwayne Haskins, son, husband, buckeye brother, friend, beloved teammate has passed away’ TF his career ups and downs have to do with him unfortunately losing his life.”

Haskins was with the Pittsburgh Steelers at the time of his death. Ryan Clark, a former Steelers defensive back who now works with Schefter at ESPN, says the writer has apologized to him directly for the tweet. But, as of Monday morning, Schefter has yet to give a public apology.

This is not the first time Schefter has appeared to be more excited about breaking news that thinking about people’s humanity. When a grand jury decided not to indict Deshaun Watson on sexual assault charges earlier this year, Schefter’s tweet read like a PR statement for the quarterback: “This is why Deshaun Watson, from the beginning, welcomed a police investigation: He felt he knew that the truth would come out.” Many pointed out that a failure to indict is not a proclamation of innocence and that Watson is still under investigation by the NFL and in civil lawsuits over allegations of sexual misconduct made by 22 women. On that occasion Schefter apologized for his “poorly worded” tweet.

Schefter was not the only person who acted like an NFL scout in the wake of Haskins’ death. Former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt sounded like he was assessing a college player’s suitability for the NFL rather than speaking about the death of a young man when he appeared on the NFL’s SiriusXM channel. “He was a guy that was living to be dead… Maybe if he stayed in school a year he wouldn’t do silly things [like] jogging on a highway,” Brandt, who subsequently apologized, said.

Jason Wright, former NFL running back and president of the Washington Commanders, shared his thoughts on Brandt’s statement by tweeting, “There is a pervasive, trite and false narrative about athletes, especially NFL and NBA, that great athleticism cannot come with great intellect and character. It subjugates men, pushing the idea that they are worth nothing apart from the arena. It has deep roots and it’s harmful.”

Beyond the blunders of those in the media, there are notable instances where dehumanization has served as a practice in the NFL. For decades, the NFL used “race-norming,” which assumed that Black players possessed a lower baseline of cognitive abilities. In turn, it was harder for retired Black players to receive compensation based on mental declines linked to their playing days. In response to a lawsuit by former NFL players, the NFL implemented a plan in March to eliminate racial bias in testing and payout.

“They don’t want to pay for your health insurance when you’re done,” Wilcox says. “They don’t want to care for your broken bones. They don’t care about your torn ligaments. The surgeries you have while you are playing for them, they don’t care. All they care about is what they can do to get you on the field to help them win. They want you to make them more money and continue to bring in billions of dollars to the organization.”

It was left to other athletes and those who knew and loved Haskins to step in and remind us that we didn’t lose a football player this weekend, we lost a person. Steelers linebacker TJ Watt remembered that Haskins “was always making people smile, never taking life for granted.” His head coach Mike Tomlin said that Haskins “was one of our hardest workers, both on the field and in our community” Even Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder, perhaps the least sympathetic figure in the NFL, managed to give Haskins the humanity others not . “He was a young man with a tremendous amount of potential who had an infectious personality. To say we are heartbroken is an understatement, ”Snyder and his wife Tanya said in a statement.

But he was an athlete from another sport, New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso, who himself was nearly killed in a car accident earlier this year, who reminded us that we are all as vulnerable as Haskins.

“That could have easily been me,” Alonso said following the Mets game against the Washington Nationals on Saturday. “Everyone that is above ground should be thankful for another day. Life is fragile, but we should all count our blessings if we are on the right side of the dirt. It’s an emotional thing to go through something like that, and I feel so bad for not just [Haskins’] teammates, but also his family.”

Alonso was right. Haskins wasn’t just a quarterback. Like all of us, he was a human.

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