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“The only culture we’re going to have in that building, period, is a winning culture.”
-- Giants head coach Joe Judge at his introductory press conference on Jan. 9, 2020
There is no theoretical harm to the Giants’ decision to sign Isaiah Wilson to their practice squad. Whatever issues the 22-year-old has aren’t likely to infect the rest of the roster. If he steps out of line, he’ll likely be cut in an instant, having cost the Giants basically nothing at all.
And who knows, maybe it’ll even work out? The Giants certainly have rolled the dice on players with character issues before and won big. Lawrence Taylor is their most famous, but they struck gold once with Ahmad Bradshaw and Plaxico Burress, too. Kerry Collins’ reputation was in tatters before the Giants signed him and he won over the locker room and led the Giants to a Super Bowl.
Even Christian Peter, with one of the most infamous and horrifying rap sheets in NFL history, went from being too awful for the New England Patriots to keep on the roster right after they drafted him, to a quiet and good soldier on the Giants’ Super Bowl XXXV team.
So maybe the Giants will do it again. Maybe they’ll get an incredibly talented right tackle for virtually nothing. Maybe the 6-foot-6, 330-pound kid from Brooklyn, with all his issues and his long rap sheet, and who has been dumped by two teams in the 17 months since he was drafted in the first round, will actually get his act and his life together and be a pillar of the Giants’ offensive line for years.
That would be great for everyone.
But remember that the next time the Giants talk about how important culture and character is to their team.
Not that they’re any different from any other team in any other sport. Winning has always mattered more than anything else. And let’s face it -- the paying customers don’t really care about the characters of their favorite players. In general, they’ll root for a murderer if it means their team will compete for a championship. In some cases, they have.
That’s why the word “culture” is so misunderstood when football coaches and executives use it. It’s not about bringing in choir boys and captains and avoiding anyone with issues in their past. It’s all about harmony in the locker room and players who want to work hard, follow instructions without being a disruption. Judge had it exactly right in his first day on the job when he said “The only culture ... is a winning culture.”
He wants to win on Sundays, not take his team to church.
That’s why GM Dave Gettleman worked so hard to clean out the Giants’ dysfunctional house when he first arrived in late December, 2017. The Giants didn’t have a locker room filled with criminals during that 3-13 season. In fact, they seemed like a pretty good group of guys when they went 11-5 the year before.
But when the losing started, the locker room disintegrated. Players like Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Eli Apple were openly defying head coach Ben McAdoo, who couldn’t get any of them under control. When Ereck Flowers wasn’t shoving a reporter, his sullen and aloof demeanor was causing a rift on the offensive line. The organization thought Jason Pierre-Paul was becoming a bad influence behind the scenes, too.
And then there was Odell Beckham, Jr., whose fame had helped him become a walking distraction. But the Giants were OK with that – OK enough to give him a $90 million contract – pretty much right up until the moment he went on national television and not-so-subtly rolled Eli Manning under a bus.
So Gettleman took over and settled all Giants family business. In the name of a better culture, he got rid of them all.
If all that seems hypocritical now that he’s brought Wilson aboard, that misses the point. None of those ousted players had the resume that Wilson does – a DUI, a 140-miles-per-hour police chase with drugs in his car, refusing to show up for a physical after he was traded, and more. Yeah, some of those ex-Giants skipped meetings (or in some cases, full days of work). But none of that is why they were thrown out the door.
They were thrown out for two reasons: They disrupted the locker room and they were part of a losing team. If the Giants hadn’t gone into a tailspin in McAdoo’s second and final season – one they haven’t gotten out of since – some of them would still be on the roster. Certainly, Beckham and Pierre-Paul would still be here.
But none of them could follow football’s golden rule.
“What that means is everybody comes to work every day, regardless of how they feel, and puts the team first, period,” Judge said, explaining his cultural philosophy on the day he was hired. “Whatever you have going on outside the building -- you’re sick, a little bit of pain, you have discomfort, you’re upset, you’re mad -- put all that aside. You come in, you put the team first.”
That is the culture that matters. That’s it. The Giants have had players who beat their children, who beat women, who did drugs, who had long criminal records, and one who went to jail for shooting himself in the leg. They’ve employed players who were considered racists and some who’ve used homophobic slurs in front of cameras. They have had many players who none of their coaches or executives would want near their children, or whom they’d even consider inviting into their house.
But like every coach, executive and owner in every sport, they tolerated those players as long as the team was winning. And that’s why Wilson is here. They are not nobly trying to help a local kid rebuild his life. They’re trying to see if they can get lucky and get a cheap upgrade at right tackle. They’re not running a halfway house or rehabilitation clinic. They’re running a football team.
And they want to win. No matter what else they say, no matter what else anyone in sports says, that’s all that’s important. They could fill the locker room with the greatest human beings on the planet. But if that group doesn’t make the playoffs, then that’s not the culture they want.