Being president has its drawbacks. You could ask George W. Bush. But you could also ask Matt Millen, Joe Dumars or Dave Dombrowski. For the first time in memory, three of our team presidents are being hounded at the same time: Millen for losing his cool, Dumars for showing too much, and Dombrowski for not acquiring any.
Let’s begin with Millen. After former Lions wide receiver Johnnie Morton snubbed Millen near the Kansas City locker room on Sunday — and Morton, according to Millen, said, “Kiss my ass” — Millen fired back with a shot of his own: “You faggot! Yeah, you heard me. You faggot!”
Was it wrong? Of course. Does Millen know it? Of course. Did he apologize? Of course. Is it enough for some people? Of course not.
If a player said that to another player, it would be dismissed as “guy talk.” Millen used to be a player and part of him still thinks like one. But he is a team president now, a suit and tie instead of pads and cleats.
“Why did you use that word?” I ask him.
“I have no idea,” he says. “It has absolutely nothing to do with Johnnie or his sexuality. It’s the first word that came out. The funny thing is, I’m not much of a curser.”
No, the funny thing is, had he cursed, no one would have said a thing. But
“faggot” is not a curse, it’s a slur. Jeremy Shockey, the New York Giants tight end, used a similar slur in an interview to describe Bill Parcells. Shockey, like Millen, apologized. But he was not fined. And he was not fired.
Does Millen deserve to be fired — as some of my colleagues seem to think? Not in my opinion. If you want to fire Millen because the team is 4-10, or 9-37 since he got here, then fire him for that. But don’t use his slur as an excuse. As Millen himself said, “Using a bad word isn’t the reason a football team plays badly.”
Here’s something else to think about: What Morton said to Millen — “kiss my ass” — he also said as a Lion once, on national TV, when he directed it at Jay Leno. His punishment? Jay flew him out to L.A. and made him famous on the show.
The development of Darko
Meanwhile, as Millen is decried for losing his patience, Dumars is critiqued for showing too much. As Pistons president, he used the coveted second pick in the NBA draft to select Darko Milicic, a 7-foot teenager from Serbia and Montenegro. Since then, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, chosen before and after Darko respectively, have burst into the NBA statistics chart, averaging double digits and getting lots of ESPN highlight time.
And Darko? He has been on the bench. He rarely gets into games. He didn’t score until the Pistons’ 24th game, and he missed a dunk, something TV announcers enjoyed pointing out.
“Did Joe make a mistake?” fans ask.
“Darko didn’t get drafted to a lottery team,” Dumars says. “We didn’t need him to take over. If we had Carmelo Anthony, he wouldn’t be getting 20 shots a game here like he is in Denver.
“We told everybody when we picked Darko we wanted to bring him along slowly.”
Dumars laughs. “I guess patience is a dirty word.”
Dumars believes by the end of the season, fans will see why he was so thrilled to grab this kid. Considering the team he has put together in his time on the job, he has earned the benefit of the doubt.
Stars don’t want Tigers’ money
Dombrowski, meanwhile, has more than enough doubt. What he doesn’t have is players. He went to the winter meetings and dropped his line in the water, hoping to land a big fish. But if fish had lips, they’d be biting them to keep from laughing.
Shortstop Miguel Tejada rejected the Tigers the way Paris Hilton would reject a room at the Motel 6. Dombrowski said the Tigers offered him five years, $45 million, but Tejada asked for seven years, $105 million, which is not, as we financial experts like to say, even freaking close.
Yet Tejada signed eventually with Baltimore for six years, $72 million. Can you blame him? Why would anyone want to play in Detroit right now unless you emptied the bank vault? The prospects are bad. The fans are disillusioned. The owner is torn between wanting a better baseball team and paying for it. The whole league seems to boil down to New York and Boston anyhow.
So Dombrowski puts his lure back in a smaller pond. And Dumars waits for time to pass. And Millen waits for memories to fade.
Can’t buy a player, can’t buy a minute, can’t buy a break.
Hey, kid. You sure you want to be president?
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays and “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR-AM (760).
Mitch will sign copies of his latest best-seller, “The Five People You Meet In Heaven,” at 7 p.m. Thursday at Borders in Taylor, at 7 p.m. Friday at Barnes & Noble in Northville, at noon Saturday at Barnes & Noble in Port Huron, at 4 p.m. Saturday at Borders in Troy, at 5 p.m. Monday at Aria Booksellers in Howell and at noon Tuesday at Sam’s Club in Southgate.