Ashley Fox | McNabb situation has some gray areas

Posted: December 19, 2007

This is a tricky one, but ultimately, I believe Pam Oliver.

I believe Oliver when she said Sunday on Fox that Donovan McNabb gave her the impression that he believes that "his days in Philadelphia are numbered" and that "he sees an organization distancing itself from him."

Why wouldn't McNabb, who later denied it, feel that way? Just about everyone in Philadelphia believes McNabb's run here is almost up. He's 31 years old. He's been injured a lot. He hasn't played spectacularly this season, even though his surgically reconstructed knee certainly was to blame early on.

The Eagles drafted the player whom they expect to be McNabb's replacement. And they haven't exactly been loyal to their aging veterans. Once they determine that a player is past his prime, the Eagles show that player the door. Just ask Jeremiah Trotter, Duce Staley, Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Ike Reese, and the litany of others.

McNabb knows all of this. And frankly, he has distanced himself from the organization since it used its second-round pick in the April draft to select Kevin Kolb. Remember that off-campus media availability he had after the draft, orchestrated by a former Eagles media relations employee who had recently been let go?

So yes, I believe McNabb does feel that his days in Philadelphia are numbered. The real question is does he think that number is of the double-digit variety, or is it a triple-digit one?

The dicey part of the he-said, she-said dispute that ensued after Oliver's halftime report and McNabb's rebuke of it following the Eagles' win over the Dallas Cowboys is in the semantics. When Oliver spoke with McNabb during pregame warm-ups at Texas Stadium, she didn't take notes. Oliver, who could not be reached for comment, reportedly said she asked him four questions and wrote nothing down until after their conversation was over.

It's possible McNabb thought he was speaking in confidence with a reporter he has known since his rookie season. That would have been foolish, given that Oliver, as a sideline reporter, gets paid to deliver information. She wasn't hanging out at Texas Stadium on her own time. She was working.

Still, reporters and athletes can, and often do, have amicable working relationships that extend into the murky world of off-the-record. Not every conversation is meant to be repeated. Determining which is, and more important which isn't, takes skill and clarity, because violating a source's trust can be devastating.

People talk. If you don't have credibility, you can't get access. If you can't get access, you can't get information. And if you don't have information, your status as a reporter will be in jeopardy.

Now, as a female reporting on sports, the issue gets even trickier. Men, be it athletes or executives, often tell us different things - and tell us things differently - than they tell other men. They can be more willing to show their emotions or to let their guard down because they aren't threatened by a woman. Sometimes they think a woman is more sympathetic or less judgmental.

And sometimes, they have other motives.

It is what it is.

To make it in this business as a female, you have to be a couple of things. Knowledgeable. Tough. And, most important, good.

Oliver is a pretty face, but she isn't merely a talking head. On Sunday, she wasn't reading what someone else wanted her to say. She was reporting what she said McNabb told her, something she obviously thought was on the record. It's possible, of course, that she misinterpreted some of his comments, but to say that Oliver fabricated her report to boost ratings or elevate her career is simply foolish. To lie about something like that regarding a player of McNabb's stature would be career suicide.

Oliver said she was trying to protect McNabb by not revealing everything he said. I don't necessarily like that, but I understand it. She was walking the line. It can be a delicate balance.

"Everything he said, I'm convinced he meant to say," Oliver told The Inquirer's Bob Brookover on Monday. "I'm a little shocked and dumbfounded that it has all been denied. I can't believe it, and I don't understand it."

That this has taken on a life of its own with the Eagles coming off their biggest victory of the season isn't surprising. It's McNabb. It's the Eagles. It's Philadelphia. And yes, the Birds are out of the playoffs, thanks to Brad Childress' Minnesota Vikings.

Andy Reid might be sick of answering questions about McNabb's future, but he helped create this tempest by drafting McNabb's successor. This comes with the territory.

If I'm Reid, however, I do everything possible to soothe McNabb, and I definitely bring him back next year. McNabb's career isn't over. With more separation from his knee surgery, he'll certainly be better next season. Kolb might be terrific, but switching to an unproven quarterback is a big risk, especially when you believe, as Reid has said, that the team is only a hair off from being a contender.

Whatever it takes, make McNabb as comfortable as possible, and spend the off-season getting him, and Brian Westbrook, some more weapons, so maybe next time McNabb can talk about the present instead of worrying about the future.


Contact staff writer Ashley Fox at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com.

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