Dak Prescott and the battle for players’ rights

By Griffin Olah

Griffin is a third-year undergraduate BGSU student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major and a Journalism minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey.

October 24, 2020

On Sunday, October 11 against the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys quarterback (QB) Dak Prescott ran a QB draw. Prescott had run many plays similar to this one throughout his career from high school, to college at Mississippi State and finally as the Dallas Cowboys’ franchise QB. This third quarter draw, though, was different.

Prescott ran up the middle, made a defender miss, and bolted towards the left sideline. There, Giants defender Logan Ryan was ready to make a play. Prescott attempted to stiff arm the oncoming defender, but Ryan was able to hold on and make a crucial open-field tackle within the red zone with the Cowboys looking to go up by two scores. During that tackle, though, Prescott’s ankle was caught underneath the players as they tumbled to the ground. Ryan stood up, ready for the next play, but Prescott looked to his ankle and found it pointing at an unnatural angle. He had a serious injury.

Immediately, players and coaches knew what was wrong. Mike McCarthy, the first year Cowboys head coach and longtime Green Bay Packers headman, came out onto the field. Teammates and opponents also came to see if the star of the franchise defined by stars was okay. He was not. An emotional Prescott was helped onto a cart and taken to the locker room. Immediately, he was sent to a hospital for surgery on the ankle. The Cowboys team Twitter account announced that Prescott suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle, an injury that has a 4-6 month recovery at the very least (Archer, 2020)

As soon as the news reached players across the league, they sent out their best wishes to the injured QB on social media. Stars across the game, such as Patrick Mahomes and J.J. Watt, wished the star a speedy recovery. Media members like Emmanuel Acho and Troy Aikman applauded Prescott and how he handled his injury. Even former Dallas Cowboys coach and current New York Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett made sure to wish Prescott well as he was carted off on the field (Blackburn, 2020).

Unfortunately, a violent game like NFL football is sure to cause injuries for its players. Nobody can argue that Prescott’s injury wasn’t horrible. Yet, the responses haven’t been the best, especially considering the person Dak Prescott is.

Before getting into the reaction, it’s important to understand Dak Prescott’s offseason path. In April, amid the pandemic and a lack of offseason programs that usually fill professional football players’ free time, the Prescott family was struck by tragedy. Dak’s older brother, Jace, died by suicide. In the time afterwards and during his grieving process, Prescott had an interview with Graham Bersinger about his brother’s death. In that interview, Prescott confirmed that Jace’s death was by suicide and that Dak also suffered from anxiety and depression in the wake of the pandemic and his brother’s death (Watkins, 2020). Prescott’s confession shook the world. How could someone that seemed to be so happy, so carefree and so fun suffer from depression?

Prescott’s strength was applauded by many after disclosing his struggles with mental health. Atlanta Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst, whose own struggles with depression are well-documented, made sure to meet the QB after their teams had a game and express his respect for Prescott’s courage (Al-Khateeb, 2020). For every good story, like Hurst’s, there is a bad one. As Hayden Hurst was supporting Prescott, FOX Sports analyst Skip Bayless was tearing him down. On Undisputed, Bayless called Prescott’s admission weak, stating that “If you reveal publicly any little weakness, it can affect your team’s ability to believe in you in the toughest spot” (Bonesteel, 2020, para. 8). Immediately, athletes, media members and fans alike rushed to Prescott’s support. Bayless was torn down, just like he attempted to tear down an important, brave and courageous act by a well-known athlete to pull back the curtain on mental health. Bayless attempted to walk back his comments, but his “opinion” remains a stain on Prescott’s already trying offseason.

In addition to the loss of his brother and the debacle with Skip Bayless, Prescott was in the middle of tense contract negotiations with the Cowboys. Prescott decided to play the 2020 season under the franchise tag after he determined the Cowboys’ offer of a 5-year deal with an annual value of $34.5 million and over $100 million of that guaranteed (Archer, 2020). Prescott believed he was worth more than the Cowboys were offering, and he decided to play the 2020 season under the franchise tag. Fans across the nation, especially Cowboys fans, were taken aback by the QB’s decision. How could Prescott leave millions of dollars at the table like that? Or, for those wanting Prescott to stay with the ‘Boys, how much will those millions of dollars Prescott wants that Jerry Jones refuses to give him matter?

Now, though, Prescott’s injury puts a new discussion on the table. Dak bet on himself, and whether you agree with that or not, it has consequences now as his franchise tag will expire before he plays another game. Fans and media members alike have been asking if Prescott turning down a long-term contract was a bad idea or not, and the truth is we won’t know until Prescott returns (Brandt, 2020). 

Prescott’s contract is not what the media is focusing on now, though. That’s reserved for “the worst people on Twitter” to look at (Barnwell, 2020, para. 18). Instead, the shock of the injury is all the media can focus on, and rightfully so. Injuries like Prescott’s – seen in Alex Smith, Gordon Hayward and Kevin Ware – have always captivated the media. You’d have to go back to Joe Theismann and Lawrence Taylor’s infamous hit on him to see a true franchise quarterback go down like this. No offense to Alex Smith. 

Immediately after Prescott was taken off the field, the NFL’s YouTube channel posted a video of the injury. The NFL’s YouTube channel is a site filled with highlights, fantasy videos and commercials showing the all-time greats in a ballroom for the 100th anniversary of the league. While Prescott’s injury is something that most likely would be covered there, and for good reason, anything that happens to one of the faces of the league should be covered by the league’s media outlets. But, labelling it as a “Can’t Miss Play” on the thumbnail is something the league seriously missed on (Heyen, 2020, para. 1). Something about a franchise quarterback and star of the league being carted off in tears isn’t a “can’t miss play” to me (Heyen, 2020, para.1) The League, always committed to protecting the shield, was called out on social media by The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman for their labelling of the grotesque injury. 

Shortly after the social media firestorm that followed Sherman’s tweet, the NFL deleted the video (Heyen, 2020). As Sherman pointed out, someone would post the video and it would go viral. But why did the official NFL YouTube account feel the need to do that? To profit off of the injury of Dak Prescott? The NFL in 2015 struck a “multi-million dollar deal” with YouTube and Google to post official highlights on the platform (McSpadden, 2015, para. 4). In addition to that, YouTube accounts in 2013 earned an average of $7.60 per 1000 views on their videos, with that number only increasing as the popularity of the platform increases (Rosenberg, 2020). The fact that the NFL was actively profiting off of their star’s injury is horrible, and if that’s how they treat a face of the league like Dak Prescott, how would they treat a lesser-known player?

The media covering the league is not sterling clean either. Well-respected analyst and Hall of Fame head coach Tony Dungy fell into hot water after saying that Dak’s injury could be a “blessing in disguise” for the Cowboys (Heck, 2020, para. 4). While Dungy attempted to walk back his comments on Twitter after the blowback, the damage was done. 

If someone covering the NFL can call an injury a “blessing,” what else can they do? While most can agree that Dungy is a well-respected and high-character person, he made a mistake here. That can explain why he faced much less of a blowback than Skip Bayless, although their comments are on equal levels. Without social media to hold these analysts and accounts liable for their slander on one of the most respected players in the game, Dak Prescott’s name could be further dragged through the mud.

Everything that happened to Prescott was horrible, but something could come out of this to help it all. Prescott’s battle with the media and his dedication to himself can inspire players to follow his example. Sure, there has been negative publicity and coverage on everything that Prescott’s been through, but the path that he’s laid and the way he’s handled it can allow more players to pursue contracts that they are truly worth and speak out about mental health. Dak Prescott is now a poster boy for players battling the power of the NFL and the media, and there is nobody better to prove that he made the right decision for himself and turn around the way players’ injuries and decisions are covered in the media. Now, maybe we can see something that gives players a chance instead of immediately siding with teams and allowing players to be humans and talk about human issues.

References

Acho, E. [@EmmanuelAcho]. (2020, October 11). The opposite has been said, but this moment, Dak Prescott, the epitome, and the embodiment of leadership. You don’t cry[Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/EmmanuelAcho/status/1315422934102536193 

Aikman, T. [@TroyAikman]. (2020, October 11). Devastated for @dak- one of the truly great people in the NFL[Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/TroyAikman/status/1315423099207249922 

Al-Khateeb, Z. (2020, September 22). Hayden Hurst thanks Dak Prescott for speaking out on depression: ‘I’ve got a lot of respect for what you did.’ Sporting News. https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nfl/news/hayden-hurst-dak-prescott-depression/82lsq51strzp1krk8w8w4c4tr 

Archer, T. (2020, October 11). Dak Prescott of Dallas Cowboys out of surgery for compound fracture, dislocation of right ankle. ESPN. https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/30094698/dak-prescott-dallas-cowboys-carted-field-ankle-injury

Barnwell, B. (2020, October 12). Dak Prescott ankle injury: Answering the biggest questions about the QB, the Cowboys, Andy Dalton and what’s next. ESPN. https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/30094522/dak-prescott-ankle-injury-answering-biggest-questions-qb-cowboys-andy-dalton-next

Blackburn, P. (2020, October 12). Dak Prescott injury: Patrick Mahomes, Troy Aikman, NFL players react to Cowboys QB being carted off of field. CBS Sports. https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/dak-prescott-injury-patrick-mahomes-troy-aikman-nfl-players-react-to-cowboys-qb-being-carted-off-field/ 

Bonesteel, M. (2020, September 11). Skip Bayless condemned for saying Dak Prescott’s admission of depression was a sign of weakness. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2020/09/11/skip-bayless-dak-prescott-depression/ 

Brandt, A. (2020, October 13). Business of football: Dak Prescott’s injury won’t significantly hurt his career earnings. Sports Illustrated. https://www.si.com/nfl/2020/10/13/business-of-football-dak-prescott-injury-bill-obrien-fired 

Dungy, T. [@TonyDungy]. (2020, October 11). Blessing in disguise was a poor choice of words by me. It’s not a blessing for Dak. What I meant[Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/TonyDungy/status/1315454990383828997

Heck, J. (2020, October 12). Tony Dungy called Dak Prescott’s injury a ‘blessing in disguise’ for the Cowboys.  Sporting News. https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nfl/news/tony-dungy-dak-prescott-injury-cowboys/1p7r7t3a97cy0101g4yymbyklz

Heyen, B. (2020, October 12). NFL deletes ‘can’t miss play’ highlight of Dak Prescott’s injury on official YouTube channel. Sporting News. https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nfl/news/dak-prescott-injury-nfl-youtube-highlight/1p01mz3n8ridp1kjiwyuvty86p

Mahomes II, P. [@PatrickMahomes] (2020, October 11). Big time Prayers up man @dak !!!![Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/PatrickMahomes/status/1315421298953248768 

McSpadden, K. (2015, January 26). The NFL is finally on YouTube. TIME. https://time.com/3682108/nfl-national-football-league-youtube-google-super-bowl/#:~:text=The%20NFL%20YouTube%20channel%2C%20which,in%2Dgame%20highlights%20and%20recaps.&text=Under%20the%20deal%2C%20Google%20will,to%20the%20Wall%20Street%20Journal

Rosenberg, E. (2020, June 4). How YouTube ad revenue works. Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/032615/how-youtube-ad-revenue-works.asp 

Sherman, R. [@rodger]. (2020, October 12). I found this last night and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Is it normal for leagues to[Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/rodger/status/1315657073049427970 

Watkins, C. (2020, September 9). Dak Prescott opens up about brother’s suicide, his own battles with depression in new interview. Dallas News. https://www.dallasnews.com/sports/cowboys/2020/09/09/dak-prescott-opens-up-about-brothers-suicide-his-own-battles-with-depression-in-new-interview/ 

Watt, J.J. [@JJWatt]. (2020, October 11). Feel so bad for Dak. Just brutal.[Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/JJWatt/status/1315421651639697408 

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