Cold Eagles sure are thin-skinned

Dan Leone, a former game-day employee of the Eagles, says he was fired for comments he made on his Facebook page about the team's failure to re-sign safety Brian Dawkins.
Dan Leone, a former game-day employee of the Eagles, says he was fired for comments he made on his Facebook page about the team's failure to re-sign safety Brian Dawkins.
Posted: March 09, 2009

It's not personal. It's business. That was the cold cop-out the Eagles used when Brian Dawkins signed with Denver. But you can't fully appreciate how heartless the organization actually is until you learn how it apparently treated Dan Leone.

For the last six years, Leone was one of the team's many game-day stadium employees at Lincoln Financial Field. For longer than that - for his entire life - he's been a fan of the franchise.

Leone grew up in the shadow of Veterans Stadium in a red-brick rowhouse near 10th and Oregon. As a kid, he'd walk over to see his beloved Birds play. The trip was never easy. Leone has a neurological disorder called transverse myelitis. Because it causes muscle fatigue and limits the range of motion in his limbs, Leone was sometimes forced to use crutches as a child.

When he grew older and the Linc opened, Leone crossed his fingers and filled out an application. The Eagles hired him almost immediately. He was ecstatic. Leone called his friends and family and gushed about going to work for the team he's always loved. He couldn't have been happier if he'd been named the Eagles' starting quarterback.

On game days, Leone served as the west gate chief. The gig required Leone to hustle to different areas of the stadium as needed. That was tough. His left leg is weaker than his right, and standing for too long gives him severe pain in his right knee and hip because that's where he shifts all his weight. While on duty, he sometimes needed a wheelchair to get around.

"They had me running all over the place like a nut, but I didn't care," Leone said. "I was so proud to work for them. It was my dream."

Last week, the Eagles fired Leone.

Like a lot of Philadelphians, Leone was upset when Dawkins became a Bronco. So he did what a 32-year-old does these days: He vented on Facebook. "Dan is [expletive] devastated about Dawkins signing with Denver. . .Dam Eagles R Retarted!!"

It was a rash, stupid thing to do, and Leone regretted it almost instantly.

"I shouldn't have put it up there," Leone said. "I was ticked off, and I let my emotions go, but I didn't offend any one person or target a specific individual. I was just upset that we lost such a great guy. Dawkins was one of my favorite players. I made a mistake."

Less than two days after posting the Dawkins remarks, Leone said, he was contacted by Leonard Bonacci, the team's director of event operations. According to Leone, Bonacci said they needed to talk about Leone's Facebook page, and Leone agreed. Leone - who deleted the comment - figured that the two would sit down and that he could apologize to Bonacci in person. But Leone said Bonacci never got back to him after that.

Two days later, Leone said, he received a call from Rachel Vitagliano, the team's guest services manager. Leone said she fired him over the phone. The conversation lasted less than 10 minutes.

No warning. No suspension. No face-to-face meeting. Just a quick call to tell Leone he'd been terminated.

"I tried putting in my case to Rachel," Leone said. "I told her I worked there for six years. I did whatever they asked. I only missed one Eagles game the entire time I worked there, and that was because I'm a Mummer. I told her it was my dream to work for the Eagles and that I'd never do anything like that again."

Leone said Vitagliano didn't want to hear it. He said that she told him he couldn't be trusted, that the post made the team look bad, and that the only way to resolve the situation was to fire him.

"I apologized for it," Leone said. "I apologized 20 million times. I never bad-mouthed the organization before. I made one mistake and they terminate me? And they couldn't even bring me into the office to talk to me? They had to do it over the phone? At least look me in the eye. To get done dirty like this, I can't believe it. I'm devastated."

Messages left for Bonacci and Vitagliano weren't returned. Through a representative, the Eagles said, "The only information we can share is that Dan was a seasonal game-day employee and not a full-time member of the Eagles staff."

It's anyone's guess what that means. Perhaps the franchise thinks hourly-wage workers are disposable and, therefore, don't deserve consideration. At the very least, it appears the Birds don't think workers like Leone deserve a second chance.

The truly remarkable part about all this is that Leone isn't bitter, and he doesn't want revenge. He simply wants to be part of the team again.

"If they called me right now and told me to come back to work, I would," Leone said. "I'm not holding any grudges. I just want to do my job."

The way the Eagles appeared to have treated Leone seems so cruel and merciless, and they should be ashamed of themselves for it. Then again, how can you feel shame when you don't feel anything at all?


Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com.

|
|
|
|
|