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Brian Rolle’s Side of the Philly Fans Twitter Fall Out
As my readers already know, occasionally I'll fly off the handle calling a fellow Philadelphian a donkey—or something to the effect. My criticism is, at times, limitless when tweeting or writing about the emotion of the Philadelphia fanbase.
I rarely catch heat from the readers in that instance. Why? Because despite my criticism, Philly sports fans know I understand. I'm a Philadelphia sports fan myself, so there's a mutual understanding. They often feel my passion, and whether they agree or disagree, they know me.
In light of the recent social media fallout between Philadelphia fans and a few Eagles players throughout 2011 (the latest being a Philadelphia linebacker's tweet in response to the 2012 NFL combine linebackers he was observing Monday night), I lashed out on another kind of target. As one of the handful of featured Yahoo! fan writers, I (perhaps hastily) used a large platform to let loose on a Philadelphia sports figure pretty harshly—Brian Rolle.
While I stand by my words in the previous article, my purpose was not to tear down a person—but, far from it. Rather, I wanted to send a strong message to young Philly athletes about something athletes like Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook, and Allen Iverson understood: their worth to—and the loyal love of—a passionate fanbase like Philadelphia.
Philly is a city that loves players who understand their passion and work hard at their craft. Whether it be a workhorse underdog-type player such as Carlos Ruiz or a mega-superstar performer like Roy Halladay, we love dedication.
Did I get my point across in the first article? I don't know, maybe. I tend to believe that possibly I didn't fully accomplish that task.
Mostly, in all of this, however, I've learned something about a man with whom I judged without knowing him, and I feel there's something we all could learn from this situation, as well.
Bear with me.
I knew he played linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles, I knew he was fifth on the Birds 2011 defense in tackles (one tackle behind Trent Cole), and I knew he had a few run-ins with a couple of fans disappointed with one thing or another about him.
After Monday's falling-out, I made a judgment based on the above factors. I logged into my Yahoo! dashboard, accessed my Yahoo! publishing tool, and I ferociously pounded away on my Dell keyboard.
I took that surface knowledge and I ran with my automatic instinct to protect the Philadelphia fanbase's nationally-tattered reputation.
"Being a part of what most NFL fans consider the weakest spot of Philadelphia football last year, Philly fans didn't let [Rolle] get away with his critical comments," I typed in aggravation. "Awesome. Thanks for your thoughts, Mr. Professional athlete," I wrote in annoyance.
"And if you—a linebacker who had a not-so-good year—find the opportunity to criticize other linebackers, you can expect a few folks from those masses to chirp," I hastily said. All the principles of those sentences I still support. But, the fact that they were built on the foundation of emotion is what added the harsh bite to the delivery of the piece.
The emotion stems from a few things: the frustration of the Eagles' 2011-12 season, emotion from the accumulative fan-Eagles player verbal back-and-forth, and, of course, the current situation between Rolle and his Twitter rebuttals to the fans.
A few hours later (after deleting full paragraphs I knew my editor would not let me keep in), I had one long lecture delivered from my proverbial soapbox. Immediately after posting my article, it cycled through cyber-Philly like wildfire.
Within the hour of its posting, Brian Rolle himself got his hands on the article and read some of the distant judgments I had about his "lack of maturity." How did he respond?
Well, quite mature, actually.
First, he followed me on Twitter. His message to me some time later was: "In no way am I upset just some things I need you to hear." He requested a "man-to-man" discussion.
In that instant, I had mixed feelings. I knew it was something that meant a lot to him because he reached out to me, but at the same time, I (with my own pride) didn't want to have to face the music of answering to someone that I just wrote a whole plethora of slightly ill-informed things about.
Despite that, I felt I owed it to him. I curiously obliged.
After some initial struggle to connect with each other, at 1:13 a.m. EST the linebacker and I finally were able to get each other on the phone.
A well-spoken Rolle said, "Well, I just wanted to speak to you man-to-man about some of the misconceptions about me and the things you wrote in your article."
He spoke with a humble tone. "I'm a nobody. I feel like everybody else out here—I just play professional football … I realize that I sucked, and I want to get better..," he said. This was a far cry from the apparent emotional response he gave those fans on Twitter. He expressed that he has worked hard to get where he is, and that fact wasn't going to ever change; he is always going to work hard.
One thing I realize now in speaking with him is that I misunderstood Rolle's comment about the linebackers he watched at the combine. When he tweeted that they were "weak" it wasn't a knock on them overall; he was commenting on their weightlifting. Rolle said at a separate time in an email to me, "My comment about the guys at the combine wasn't out of hate. I was referring to the bench and I'm actually very excited about any of those guys if they happen to land in Philly and help the team."
While the responses to Rolle's "These LBS weak" tweet were the typical no-nonsense type of Philly fan responses, something about them got under his skin. "I got upset. … It's not like me to get angry. I mean, it takes a lot," he said.
In our conversation, he expressed to me that he felt my article was over the line. In so many words, I agreed that was indeed partly what I had intended writing it. He listened to me explain the way the Philadelphia fanbase feels, and he accepted the fact that we're a passionate bunch.
Still, he didn't appreciate the way he was portrayed as a guy who lacked maturity. He understood that he was out of line in the responses to the fans who antagonized him.
Maybe I had spoken about the lack of maturity of a person, when really it was only an immature moment.
Who Rolle is typically, though, is not what his suddenly misjudged public reputation would have you believe it is. The 23-year-old Rolle was raised in the humble town of Immokalee, Fla. Despite the odds being against him, he fought his way to success the way he was supposed to.
The city of Immokalee is a blue-collar town with a population somewhere between Phoenixville and Norristown, Pa. The people who live in Immokalee are hard-workers—nothing comes easy to them. According to city-data.com, the top six occupations are labor-based jobs. In fact, 32 percent of the workers there are agricultural workers, 10 percent are building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations, and 8 percent are construction laborers.
So, while there may be some considerable differences between the two parties (players and fans), some of the differences could be superficial. Players like Rolle have worked hard for what they've accomplished, have come from humble beginnings, and have beat the odds. And they are still working hard to raise their game to that next level.
Is it possible that what we at times think is a chasm between the two parties could, in some cases, be the same emotion in different forms? I'd say so.
Philly fans and players together are all upset about the Eagles' season. Rolle understands that. He has what he calls "a passion for Philly and its fans," and he understands "our season wasn't what they expect[ed]."
We all want what's best for the Eagles; that includes fans as loyal followers who have been here, and will continue to be here, and players as the folks who are trying to get the fans what they want.
We should all be a team. Players understand the fans and vice versa. It's what both sides desire.
We're all subject to make mistakes. We're all bound to flub up once or twice. Any relationship counselor would tell you it's counterproductive to dwell on who is in the right or the wrong. Who did what and why it was bad.
Rolle said something that upset fans, fans said something in return, and Rolle said something back. We can argue for ages at a time who's more in the wrong. Pointless.
Bottom line: If we've all learned a lesson, we can keep it moving along. And to be fair to Brian Rolle, he gets it.
If you're looking for a consequence, there's much Rolle may have suffered. He doesn't want to lose the respect of a fanbase he highly appreciates.
He has been talked to by the Eagles organization. A representative told me, "We've spoken to Brian about this particular situation and to all the players on the team about social media in general."
It's overdone. Now, let's just try to get a Super Bowl win in 2012-13, Philly. There's work, yet, to be done.
Vincent Heck is a life-long resident of the Philadelphia area, and a featured 'Fan View' blogger on Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter: @HeckPhilly.
Email Vincent at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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