Is It OK To Tell You: 'It’s None Of Your Business?'
We were already miserable after the three-point loss to Chicago, when Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta came up to me in our Soldier Field locker room. “Hey, there might be something wrong with Ozzie. The doctors are checking him right now,” DeCosta said.
Near the end of the overtime loss, Newsome, seated in the press box, was sweating like Gary Williams on a Maryland basketball court. Ozzie’s blue shirt attached to his body as the liquid leapt out of his pores. He felt a bit light-headed as he approached the elevator that would take him to the stadium basement.
When I first went to see him, Newsome was lying on a table, and doctors were examining him. I could hear Dr. Andy Tucker, our team doctor from MedStar, telling Oz: “Think it might be best if we get you to a hospital and take some tests.” Another doctor came over to me and said: “It’s precautionary, but we’d feel better if he had some tests here rather than wait until we land in Baltimore.”
By the time John Harbaugh finished his post-game press conference, there were already tweets and national reports about Ozzie sweating on the elevator. Another said that “Newsome could have fainted.” Such is the high-profile world of the NFL and a Hall of Fame player who is one of the NFL’s most recognized and respected general managers.
It still seemed too congested around Ozzie, when one of the doctors asked me to come into the small room where Newsome was lying on a table. I felt better when I heard Oz chuckle as I entered. The Wizard sat up, and Dr. Tucker said: “We’re going to take him to a hospital for some tests – just to be safe.” Ozzie smiled and said: “Doc, I’m feeling pretty good. Think I’ll be OK to go back with the team.”
Dr. Tucker looked at me. “Oz, you can’t. Already sold your seat. Made some good money on it,” I offered. (Newsome sits next to me on our charters.)
“How much you get?” Ozzie asked smiling.
I then approached Newsome. “Look, you’re Ozzie the Hall of Fame player, the general manager of the reigning Super Bowl champions. When you enter the hospital, it’s news, big news. What do you want us to say about it?”
Newsome looked sad. “Do we really have to say anything?”
“Oz, they’ve already tweeted about you sweating, and one report said you fainted,” I answered.
“That’s not right Kevin,” Oz said quietly.
It Got Worse
I left the room to let Ozzie change his clothes and looked for an exit that would allow him to leave the locker room without running into reporters.
Chad Steele, our director of public relations, found me in another back room. “You’re not going to like this. There’s an ambulance at the front door of the locker room, and they have a gurney out. There are a bunch of reporters hanging out there waiting to see what’s going on."
So much for sneaking Ozzie out.
The reporters tell you that they are just doing their jobs. … And, they all want to be first with the story. Our phones were blowing up. Texts and calls from every major NFL reporter – Adam Schefter, Chris Mortensen, Peter King, Mike Florio, Jason LaCanfora, three reporters from The Baltimore Sun and on and on – all wanting to know what was wrong with Oz.
We told the Bears’ locker room attendant to move the ambulance down the hall, approximately 100 yards from our entrance. We asked for a golf cart, and we arranged for a number of people to be on it, just to try and confuse the reporters a little. At this point, we were dealing with Ozzie’s right to privacy, the aggressive reporters and false reports while trying to be calm.
Went back to see Ozzie, who was now standing and wearing a dry shirt. “They want you to go in an ambulance to get you through traffic.” The Wizard cringed. “We’re moving the ambulance away from here, and we’ll get you on a cart and try to keep the media away.
“And I know you don’t want us to say anything, but I think we should.” Ozzie stared at me. “How about something like: ‘Ozzie is being checked after sweating out of the ordinary and feeling a little light-headed.’”
“I’d rather not say anything,” Newsome replied. “I’m worried about my family.”
As we slipped out a side door, the ambulance was not a long distance. It was right there, as were a few reporters.
Ozzie left. The messages and voicemails continued to fill up all of our phones. I then texted Dr. Tucker, who was with Oz, and suggested this statement: “Ozzie Newsome did not feel well after the game, and a team doctor recommended that Ozzie not fly tonight.”
Tucker replied: “Oz is good with that.”
Reporters Have Tough Jobs
That was a difficult situation both for us and reporters. We wanted to protect Ozzie’s privacy, and he has a right to that. At the same time, we know reporters are compelled to tell the story without sympathy for Oz’s privacy or whether or not Oz or the Ravens had contacted his family. Is that right? Not sure. It’s not black and white to me.
In my first year with the Art Modell Browns, one of our running backs was first-round pick Charles White, the Heisman Trophy winner from Southern Cal. Art started a program called the Inner Circle, which allowed players with problems – alcohol, drugs, family, mental issues – to obtain treatment quietly through the famed Cleveland Clinic. White was an original member of that program. (I can say that now because Charlie eventually made this public.)
None of us knew which players used the program, which is one of the reasons it succeeded and became a model for the NFL’s current treatment packages. As part of White’s treatment, the team psychiatrist assigned Charles to a 28-day program located south of Los Angeles. White wanted to do the program there because his wife and children lived close by.
Two days before White was to graduate from the treatments, the Los Angeles Times called me and said: “Can you confirm for us that Charles White is in a drug rehab facility in Orange County?” I didn’t know at the time, so I said, “No.” I called Mr. Modell, and he confirmed and suggested I call our team psychiatrist, Greg Collins.
Dr. Collins explained to me that this information becoming public could create a huge setback for White, who was now doing well with his rehab. “I’m not sure how Charles would handle this if the story is on his doorstep the first day he is out of treatment.”
I called Bill Dwyre, the sports editor of the Times and an old friend. Bill and I were once in a pickup basketball game – with former Utah, St. Louis and Marquette head coach Rick Majerus – in Milwaukee. We had to win to keep the court. Dwyre ended up in a fracas, punched an opponent and broke the guy’s nose. (That story never made the Milwaukee Journal, the paper where Dwyre was then running the sports department.)
I asked Bill to not run the Charles White/rehab story. His reply was something like: “Let me get this straight. The Heisman Trophy winner from the college in our backyard is in a treatment center for drugs, and you’re asking me not to run the story? You’re kidding, right? Didn’t you get a journalism degree from Marquette?”
I appealed to Bill’s humanity. “What if Charles can’t handle this? He has a wife, kids. Why not let him have a fresh start without being publicly humiliated?” Dwyre calmy said: “It will be in our paper tomorrow, and it will be on page one.”
“Bill, I’m going to tell another paper that you broke a guy’s nose in a pickup basketball game.”
“Go ahead,” Dwyre said. “No one cares what I did.” At least I tried. The story ran. White eventually got his life in order, later coaching at and serving in the athletic department at Southern Cal.
What we’d like from reporters is discussion about a hard-fought Ravens’ win over the Jets. Wouldn’t that be good to see by late Sunday afternoon? We can make that story come true. Let’s beat the Jets.
Talk with you next week,
P.S. When I saw Ozzie in his office on Monday afternoon after he flew back from Chicago that morning, I knew he was alright when he asked: “And, how much did you get for my seat on the plane?”