McMullen: Ajayi Needs to be Proactive with Reputation
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — When happened to Jay Ajayi this week wasn't fair but life rarely is and the Eagles' newest running back has to be more proactive when it comes to protecting his personal brand.
Remember Ajayi arrived in Philadelphia with a bit of a reputation as a selfish guy thanks to the number Adam Gase did on him on the way out the door in Miami.
You can look at that two ways -- no one knows the 24-year-old Ajayi better than his old coach or Gase went looking for scapegoats do sugarcoat what's going on with his self-described "garbage offense."
Whatever side of that fence you are on there, certain damage was done to Ajayi's reputation and that, more than anything, explains why one football pundit explained the running back's sullen and begrudging comments after a poor game against Chicago as grumbling about his role on a 10-1 team.
To those who were actually in the locker room and heard Ajayi's remarks from start to finish it was clear he was upset at the fumble Nelson Agholor ultimately turned into a touchdown with his hustle.
That said, others could easily take a sound clip out of context and spin things in a different direction, something that happened on NBC Sports Philadelphia when Ray Didinger, hardly the "hot-takes" type, lambasted the London native.
"He's obviously miffed," Didinger claimed. "..."But if he's got an issue with the touches, hey chief, this team was winning before you got here. It's nice to have you here, we're glad to have you in the clubhouse, you're a nice addition, but they were doing pretty good before you got to town."
Ajayi's response came on Twitter:
Here's what Ajayi doesn't seem to understand, however: nothing turned into at least a mini-flap because of the way he handled himself both after the game and this week.
Every NFL player makes a mistake at some point but the craftier ones understand that dealing with the media after games is part of their job description and wearing frustration on your sleeve is not going to make things any better.
By Monday Eagles coach Doug Pederson was forced to address the issue, something that was easy because the truth wasn't exactly headline worthy:
"He's fine," the coach insisted when discussing Ajayi. "He's so excited to be here, obviously. He's on a winning football team. ... He was frustrated from the standpoint that he had a chance to score and lost the ball."
All that was left to do was Ajayi himself finally putting this in the rear-view mirror on Thursday, the day Ajayi specifically told local reporters he would speak during the week after the trade.
So with a phalanx of beat reporters and television cameras in front of his locker Ajayi simply stayed away for the full 45 minutes of access, pushing a manufactured controversy back another 24 hours.
By Friday Ajayi was finally there holding court and explaining his meeting with the head coach.
"He knew where it was coming from and obviously, I was just frustrated (about fumbling)," Ajayi said. "It wasn't really a big conversation. The message was 'move onto Seattle. It is what it is.'"
It is what it is, though, because Ajayi first fueled a false narrative with tone and body language before letting it fester for far too long.The better tact would have been to move up his own availability to Wednedsay or even Tuesday when certain players are made available to beat reporters outside the NovaCare Complex.
"Obviously, during the game, I'm a very passionate player and I'm very hard on myself as well," Ajayi finally explained. "I was definitely frustrated I wasn't able to finish the run. It was great blocking and it was basically just me and the end zone and I have to be able to finish in the open field. Knowing those guys might be coming to punch the ball out. It's a learning opportunity."
That learning opportunity applies to what went on after the game off the field as well and hopefully, Ajayi can figure that out.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for Extra Points Media and 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen