Raiola: Making Matters Worse

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - December 17, 2008
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With the Detroit Lions rushing toward the greatest season of futility in NFL history, team officials would have welcomed any publicity to take attention away from their dismal showing.

Well, almost any publicity. At the conclusion of the Lions’ Dec. 7 game against the Minnesota Vikings, which ran the team’s unwinning streak to an impressive 13 games, center Dominic Raiola reacted to an unruly fan or fans, who evidently got so abusive and personal he gave the sideline instigator a single-fingered show of defiance.

Needless to say, the reaction hasn’t set well with a fan base that boasts a large number actually hoping for a winless season. The feeling is that after years of front-office ineptitude and disassociated ownership, only the embarrassment of historic failure is capable of turning things around.

And unfortunately, Raiola got caught up in the tidal wave of disgust.


 

Raiola was wrong in his reaction. One of the golden rules of athletics is that players cannot interact negatively toward fans, if for no other reason than maintaining a proper relationship with the customer. But anyone who has been on the sidelines of a sporting event knows that fans can get downright nasty, if not boorish, insensitive and rude, at times cross the line where not even family is safe from painful criticism. According to Raiola, this is exactly what happened.

“You get booed a lot in the NFL. We get booed every week,” said Raiola to reporters from Mlive.com. “Fans pay a lot of money, and times are really hard right now, and we understand that they want to see a winner. When they get personal (with) myself and my family ... I’m just not going to put up with that. I’m a human being, I’m just not going to deal with that.”

The former Crusader’s biggest failure was not in offering up a one-fingered review of the criticism, but in his refusal to back away from the uproar through careful post-game comments and to apologize in the face of mounting controversy. Even if the contrition had been no more genuine than Rod Blagojevich’s sincerity, it would have quelled the fire for a team that already has too many.

Raiola’s defiance was further pushed into the realm of ridiculousness and unnecessary brag-gadocio when he challenged fans to fisticuffs, saying, “I don’t take one thing back ... I wish I could give my address out to some fans. But, you know, I can’t. Nobody plays with fists. Everybody wants to play with metal.”

Besides increasing his chances to be referenced on a 50 Cent single, the comment just further irked fans who flooded call-in shows accepting the center’s challenge to a manly showdown.

Raiola is obviously frustrated. A career stuck in the most dys-functional franchise in professional sports will test even the most-even-tempered athlete. But he has to recognize that while he has suffered through nearly a decade of incompetence, the fans have been carrying the burden for five decades.


Raiola, one of the few Lions worth a damn, and perhaps the only one who hasn’t mailed it in on a team full of underachievers and Tampa Bay rejects, is the one guy most apt to explode in the face unforgivable comments. This is not his first fine and likely won’t be his last.

Raiola is an aggressive player who, as shown by his pregame barking session with Brian Urlacher, is not inclined to spend much time getting friendly with the competition. He’s got that streak of nasty his job demands, and he is fueled by passion and repeated seasons of records so bad that simple mediocrity would be a noteworthy goal.

Speaking to reporters in the days that followed, Raiola talked about being frustrated with losing and “tired of being a doormat.”

Who could blame him? The Lions are awful and no one should feel confident that this will ever change. If Raiola’s actions, as some have speculated, are an attempt to be traded to a better organization, one could hardly chastise him for wanting a chance for success.

But while Raiola has been raked over the coals, one unpopular post-finger comment makes sense. If the product is so bad, why do fans bother wasting their money on something that brings so much displeasure?

“You know, if you’re not happy, why are you coming to the game? I understand that they haven’t seen a winner in eight years, so don’t come. Don’t come until we turn it around,” said the 295-pounder.

Makes sense.

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