Eli Apple acknowledges it can be awkward balancing his life as a Giants rookie cornerback with his mother’s outspoken, sometimes controversial remarks as an ESPN commentator and SI.com columnist. It was never more awkward than yesterday.
Apple had just finished practice and taken off his jersey and shoulder pads when reporters came to get his reaction to a potential powder keg of an Annie Apple column posted the night before. She excoriated the Giants for not reaching out to her after she wrote a powerful story the previous week about her experiences as a domestic-violence survivor, and went so far as to suggest the Giants had gone to Eli to pressure him to control her remarks about the organization.
She wrote that she couldn’t bring herself to attend the Giants’ game against the Rams in London, which came on the heels of the team’s decision not to bring kicker Josh Brown, who was deactivated after documents released in connection with his 2015 arrest for domestic violence showed he admitted physically and emotionally abusing his wife well before the arrest. Annie was particularly critical of team president and co-owner John Mara, who has acknowledged that the team knew of the arrest and abuse allegations before re-signing Brown to a two-year contract in April.
“At that moment, I just couldn’t cheer for a team I felt had turned its back on what was right to protect an image,” Annie wrote of her decision to miss one of Eli’s games for the first time since he was in high school. “It was difficult because I love my son and I’ve always been in his corner at every game, but for me, this was bigger than a game. But I was livid with the Giants, not just because of John Mara’s comments, but I was disappointed in the organization because I felt they were leaning heavily on a 21-year-old kid in an effort to control what his mother says. That’s not fair.”
That’s a powerful statement. Suggesting that the Giants pressured Eli to limit her commentary would be a shot across the bow at an organization that has had a well-earned reputation for treating its players fairly.
Eli Apple said it’s simply not true.
“Maybe that’s just an assumption of hers she just felt in her gut, but it’s definitely false,” he said when asked if he had told his mother to temper her remarks. “Nobody’s leaning on me to tell her or anything, telling me things to tell her. It’s not like that at all. I think the Giants are a class organization, and I’m just happy to be here.”
Eli said he had not spoken to her since the article was published but that he planned to do so. Annie did not return telephone calls seeking clarification of her remarks.
It’s hard enough for a first-round pick to make the transition to the NFL, and in Eli’s case, it’s even tougher. Annie’s account of her harrowing relationship with Eli’s biological father, who regularly abused her before she finally left him, was compelling and important. No one should have begrudged her the right to tell it, and all evidence suggests the Giants did not.
But Annie took it a step further when she complained that no one in the organization had reached out to her to discuss her story, even though the Giants had no obligation to do so. Their obligation is to Eli, not to his mother. And if she had asked for an audience with Mara, I would assume that request would have been granted.
Instead, she laced into her son’s employer and the organization he runs. “I wanted my then 20-year-old son to [be drafted by] a team that would help him grow not just his talents, but as a man and person,” she wrote. “I believed the hype. I even drank the sugar-free blueberry Kool-Aid. By Friday in London, I was spitting it up.”
Eli has been a Giant since late April, hardly enough time for someone to make sweeping value judgments about an organization that has been among the best-run and well-intentioned in professional sports. There is no denying that the Giants did not handle the Josh Brown situation well and that team president John Mara made several missteps along the way. But that shouldn’t take away from Mara’s body of work.
Having known and watched him for the last three decades, I can tell you that Mara has the best interests of his players at heart and that he tries to do the right thing. He is one of the most respected owners in sports, and that reputation has been earned over many years.
The Brown situation certainly doesn’t reflect well on him or the franchise, but that cannot and should not invalidate the overall stewardship of the team, both under his watch and that of his father, the late Wellington Mara. These are good people, but not perfect people.
Annie would do herself some good to meet with Mara. In the meantime, Eli plans to have a word with his mother. “It’s definitely a weird position, of course,” he said. “You want to just focus on football. Sometimes things like this come up that make it a little bit hard, because you think about it a little bit, but you’ve got to move on from it, talk to her a little bit, try to speak your mind a little bit.”
That this uncomfortable situation would arise is no surprise. When the mother of an NFL player says or writes controversial things in national media forums, it’s only natural that her son will be caught in the middle. But this is his time and his career, and while Annie has the right to express her opinions — and many are worth considering — it makes it more difficult for Eli.
Eli accepts that his mother is outspoken, which has been the case throughout his upbringing. But Annie needs to understand that there can be negative consequences to things she writes or says, and that her son will be put in difficult situations.
The only thing Eli wants to think about is Sunday’s game against the Eagles. While there is no minimizing the issue of domestic violence, and while the powerful story Annie told last week was important and compelling, she needs to consider ways of balancing her outspokenness with her son’s wishes to concentrate on his career.