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Have you ever had that feeling when you show up somewhere, and something is off?  You know something isn’t quite right, but you can’t put your finger on it?  That eerie, sour sense of mystery likely flooded the air circulating through the Dallas Cowboys facility soon after the players arrived early Saturday morning, just hours after the death of one of their teammates.

It was an early wake-up for the Dallas Cowboys as meetings began at the training facility at 7:30am Saturday, with the team plane scheduled to take off for Cincinnati a few hours later, a source close to the team told PepperOnSports.   Once the players separated into groups, it became clear that two guys were missing from their respective meetings, third-year nose tackle Josh Brent, and rookie linebacker, Jerry Brown.  The players began talking amongst themselves, but were told only that there had been an “unfortunate accident,”  and no details were provided by team personnel, according to the source. 

It wasn’t until the team had boarded the charter plane in the afternoon that the players received the bad news from head coach Jason Garrett.  Jerry Brown was killed in a drunk driving accident, and Josh Brent - who was driving when his car flipped at 2:21am after hitting a curb at high speeds - had been arrested for DUI and manslaughter. 

Brent and Brown were on their way home from Privae nightclub in Dallas, where a dozen Cowboys players had spent the evening partying with comedian Shawn Wayans, according to a source close to the team.  The Privae website advertises free entry with an RSVP every Friday and promotes an evening with celebrity guest host Shawn Wayans for December 7.  Most bars and clubs in Dallas close at 2am.  

Not that there is ever a good time to learn that one coworker is dead and another is being blamed for it, but right before a two-and-a-half hour flight, without the comfort of friends or family outside of the office seems like a tough way to receive the news.   When asked about the mood of the players during the flight, the source replied, “silence on the plane.”  That was perhaps the longest flight of those mens’ lives.

(Update: “The team couldn’t immediately reveal the details because Brown’s next-of-kin had not been notified,” according to USA Today)

This takes us back eight days ago, in the wake of Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher, who murdered his girlfriend Kassandra Perkins, before killing himself at Arrowhead Stadium in front of KC’s general manager and head coach.  As of last Friday, there was no precedent in dealing with the murder/suicide carried out by n active NFL player, much less with the suicide happening in front of team personnel at the stadium.

Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the first time an active NFL player has died in a car accident during the season.  Atlanta Falcons players Ralph Norwood and Brad Beckman were killed in separate car accidents less than a month apart during the 1989 season.

The Chiefs operated under a microscope last week, every decision and movement dissected by the media.  One can only imagine the level of interest and examination facing the Cowboys, a team whose 6-6 record - now seemingly inconsequential in comparison - is the subject of daily debate on both the local and national level.   It should be interesting to watch the ensuing behavior of frequently scrutinized Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in the wake of this tragedy. 

Hopefully the appropriate mental health support will be offered to players and team personnel for the remainder of the season.  One can only imagine the emotional weight the Cowboys will carry with them on to the field Sunday against the Bengals.  

 

If you’ve watched the Chiefs at all over the last few years, it’s obvious that something isn’t quite right in Kansas City.  We knew the X’s and O’s were suspect, but the behavior of the front office, as reported by the Kansas City Star, takes this situation to a whole new level of dysfunction. 

In the story written by Kent Babb, information from more than two dozen current and former Chiefs employees paints a picture of paranoia and illegal surveillance of employees by management.

Todd Haley, the former Chiefs head coach who was fired mid-season is quoted in the article, accusing management of bugging rooms in the team facility and tampering with his personal cell phone (that he had before he was hired by KC). 

The article quotes several sources (both anonymously and by name) and a few of them said that while the culture certainly changed once Scott Pioli was hired as the general manager in 2009, that the new rules and regulations weren’t bothersome to them personally.  On the other hand, the majority quoted in the article describe a McCarthy-esque work environment that not only violates personal privacy, but also breaks the law. 

Unless Pioli is an undercover FBI agent posing as a football GM (and by the looks of the Chiefs, that isn’t a stretch) and invoking the Patriot Act, wire tapping without the knowledge of the other party is illegal (in most states).  Babb notes that employee turnover has been through the roof since Pioli was hired and some former staffers are suing the organization.  The following excerpt from Babb’s article is hard to believe:

"Some of the first changes involved shutting off access and protecting information. Non-football employees, including those who had worked for the Chiefs for decades, were told that they weren’t allowed on certain floors, or in certain areas of the team facility. Business-side staffers with an office window facing the practice fields were made to keep their shades drawn during practices. The team president was no exception. A security guard made the rounds during practices, sometimes interrupting phone calls and meetings to lower shades."

Talk about going overboard, right?  Many cited in the article said the intrusive measures were taken to prove which employees were loyal to the team and the cause, and which weren’t.  As one former higher-up told Babb, “The level of paranoia was probably the highest that I had ever seen it anywhere.  If you make the wrong step, you might not be able to pay your mortgage.”

Sure, this all sounds great if its in a science fiction novel, but in real life?  If true, this is scary stuff.  While I am shocked at the depth of the allegations, the general idea isn’t that surprising seeing is that Pioli came from New England and was a part of the infamous Spygate in 2007. 

Pioli, a good friend and longtime coworker of Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 for his role in the scandal involving the Patriots stealing signs by secretly video taping the New York Jets coaching staff.  Belichick and the Patriots’ secrecy, gate-keeping and limited access is legendary in the sports world. 

"A common notion is that employees are constantly being watched. When they arrive and leave, where they’re going within the building and who they’re talking to. Indeed, the technology exists at the Chiefs’ offices, as it does in many corporate settings, to monitor phone calls and emails," writes Babb.  "But here, some staffers even hesitated before using their cell phones or speaking inside the building, because, like Haley, they suspected that conversations were monitored."

Former stadium operations director Steve Schneider told Babb, ‘The capability was definitely there for Big Brother to be watching.”

True or not, this story should inspire an even bigger brother to look into the practices of Pioli and the Chiefs management.  I’m guessing the ACLU is already on the case.  You would think with all of the alleged technology, surveillance and attention to detail, that the front office would’ve at least found a way to muster up more than seven wins from its team this season.  Go figure. 

To read more of Kent Babb’s fascinating story about the Chiefs, click this link:  http://www.kansascity.com/2012/01/14/3371495/arrowhead-anxiety-turnover-off.html#storylink=cpy