Why not Alexander?
One NFL general manager ran down a long list of Alexander's weaknesses for CBS.com sportswriter Clark Judge:
"He doesn't have anything left . . . People are always talking about the numbers, but the numbers don't tell the story. There's the injury factor. And the hands factor. And a desire and competitiveness that don't seem to be there. He's never been known as a very tough player, and there have always been questions about his attitude. I'm not saying that because he's out there (unsigned) now. I would have told you the same thing four or five years ago. Basically, I don't like him (as a back), and I don't trust him."
"Don't trust him" to what? The GM sounds like a Walmart manager talking about a union activist.
According to Shannon J. Owens of the Orlando Sentinel (in an article that appeared in today's Lexington Herald-Leader), Alexander's attitude gets questioned because of he wears his Christianity on his sleeve and is such a community activist.
That sounds good. But Warrick Dunn is a big-time community activist who's gained about 10,000 yards and he didn't have any trouble landing a position after getting released by Atlanta. And Dunn's 33 where Alexander's only 30.
So, why the hostility towards Alexander?
It's an interesting question because Alexander was getting the business even when he was a star at Boone County high school in Kentucky. In Alexander's senior year, Boone County lost to one of the Louisville powerhouses (either Trinity or St. Xavier) in the state finals and I can still remember the winning coach sneering at Alexander's "pitty pat" or "tippy toe" running style.
My own speculation is that Shaun Alexander has always been the kind of stud athlete who plays his game and plays it extremely well while maintaining a psychological distance. As Alexander puts it himself:
"Because I don't carry football around everywhere I am, it kind of throws people off. They're never really sure . . . I've never made football my identity, and that's where God has graced me."The problem for Alexander is that scouts, coaches, and GM's are guys who were often marginal athletes who were dedicated to the game in a fanatical, obsessive way. Mike Shanahan of the Denver Broncos is a good example. He petitioned everyone at Eastern Illinois to allow him to continue playing even though he's lost a kidney. The only thing that guys like Shanahan respect and trust is their own kind of fanaticism and they look suspiciously at a guy like Alexander who leaves the game on the field. They tolerate Alexander while he's piling up big numbers but treat him like a pariah as soon as he has problems.
Unfortunately, Alexander's problem is also an American problem. The obsessives--the fanatics--the guys and women who only sleep three or four hours a night looking for that thin sliver of an angle are the people in charge of American politics, sports, and business right now. It's one reason why there's such a warped quality to everything we do.
In a sane world, Shaun Alexander wouldn't have such a hard time finding work. But it's not a sane world.