NEW ORLEANS — He is a peek at the dark side. A dip in muddy water at this otherwise storybook lagoon of a sporting event. Irving Fryar never figured to get this kind of attention at the Super Bowl. But that is the way it is.
“Will you talk about it?” he is asked.
“No, it’s nobody else’s business,” he says.
He sits in the middle of a ballpoint army, and slowly suffocates. Will he talk about it? Hundreds of reporters close around him like a fist, jamming microphones and notepads into his nostrils, hoping if he will not talk about it now, maybe he will talk about it in a few minutes.
“Has the truth been printed?” he is asked.
“Some of it,” he says.
The other Patriots players are scattered around the Superdome floor for their morning meeting with the media. They laugh with reporters. They mug for the cameras. This is their big week. They are having fun.
Irving Fryar is having no fun. His body language tells you he wants out. He shifts in his seat. His eyes dart around. His hands are locked together, until someone asks to see the scars, the knife wounds on his fingers from where his pregnant wife allegedly cut him after he punched her.
He holds up the stitched fingers and looks away, because he knows the next step after showing is telling.
And Irving Fryar isn’t telling. Sympathy is scarce
“Are you sorry about all this?” he is asked.
“Yeah. I am,” he says.
“Do you think you’re a bad person?” someone asks.
“No,” he says, “I can look in the mirror at night and say truly that I’m not.”
It was first reported Fryar would have to miss the Pats’ AFC championship game on Jan. 12 because he had accidentally cut himself putting a kitchen knife into a drawer. That was the story Fryar told his team.
Then a report came out that Fryar had struck his wife — who is five months’ pregnant — in a restaurant parking lot, and she had come at him with a knife, and he had cut his hand trying to block it. Fryar had no comment.
After New England won the AFC title, Fryar released a statement admitting it was a “domestic altercation” that caused his injury and that “he and his wife are working to make their relationship stronger.” No details.
“What’s the whole truth?” someone asks.
“The whole truth is nobody’s business,” he says.
Fryar’s hand is healing. Lies and fights don’t keep you out of ball games. And so he will play in the Super Bowl. And endure these mass inquisitions for a few more days.
You could feel sorry about the barrage of questions. Then again, Fryar’s record is not exactly spanking clean. He was involved in a violent incident with a woman back in college at Nebraska. Fryar tries to talk about football. About special- teams coverage and pass patterns. But those kinds of questions are just appetizers now. There is suspicion behind the microphones and notepads.
“What are those chains around your neck?” asks someone, spotting a gold charm shaped like boxing gloves.
“I used to be a boxer,” he says. “I quit. It was too rough.”
It is meant to be an innocently funny remark. The laughter is cynical. He jokes, but no one laughs
There are angles at every big sporting event. The Key Player angle, The Aging Veteran angle. And more and more, there is the Nasty Reality angle. Quintin Dailey, Keith Hernandez, Micheal Ray Richardson. The list is long, and now, with Fryar, one name longer. Proof that pro athlete status is not the cloak of godliness some people imagine.
Perhaps whatever problems Fryar has — he is only 23 — he will work out. But the NFL is under a giant microscope. And so in certain ways it’s too late.
He can talk all he wants about football, but when the announcers call his name Sunday there is no way millions of people will quit wondering if he’s the kind of guy who beats up on his pregnant wife. That’s simply the way it is. He was caught with his vulnerability down around his knees and people will not soon forget the image.
“What did this all teach you?” he is asked.
“It taught me to stay in the house,” he answers, and tries to laugh, but it doesn’t come out too well. CUTLINE Irving Fryar