The Elephant in the Locker Room: Pete and the Middle Finger


By Greg Wright

Well, I guess I should have published this article on Thursday so I could beat the Seattle Times to a summary of the Seahawks’ history with flipping the bird. Alas! but I will just have to take things one step further than did the Times.

For those who missed it (and did anybody miss it?), Earl Thomas left the field during Sunday’s game at Arizona’s ill-fated stadium with the second broken leg of his short career. Both times, he appears to have broken bones not while planting his foot or landing on it, but be cracking his shin on another player’s leg while in mid-air. Very odd.

The first time, Earl collided with Kam Chancellor. On Sunday, the other player in question was Cardinals receiver Chad Williams, who grabbed a TD right in front of Thomas. Thomas never regained his feet, immediately aware that his leg was again broken. As he was carted off the field, NFL cameras caught him extending his middle finger toward the Seattle sideline, his facial expression oddly blank. The gesture has earned him a fine from the NFL.

The gesture has apparently not earned him a fine from the Seahawks. In fact, Pete Carroll even came to Earl’s defense during radio interviews this week. As the good men at 710 ESPN Sports Radio pointed out, Pete has coached no one longer than Earl Thomas, who was Seattle’s first-round draft pick in Carroll’s premiere season with the Seahawks, and is now the lone remainder from that first-season roster. Carroll talked about the emotion involved in the moment, and advised extending a little courtesy and consideration toward his star safety, particularly considering that potential for such an injury is precisely why Thomas had been holding out for a contract extension and another snootful of guaranteed cash.

But more about that in a minute. First, as the Times pointed out, it’s not like this is the first time the coaching staff has been shown up in this way.

The first such incident came courtesy of Marshawn Lynch. At the 1-yard line against Arizona in 2013, Lynch flipped the bird toward the coaching staff upon breaking the huddle. Darrel Bevell had just called a pass play instead of feeding the Beast. (The play worked, btw, for those who remember the Super Bowl loss against New England.)

The next bird-flyer was Doug Baldwin, who similarly flipped off Bevell for targeting someone else besides him during a 2016 game against Philadelphia. Instead of scoring a TD on that play, as you may remember, Baldwin tossed a TD pass to Russell Wilson.

That’s the kind of thanks Bevell always got for scoring TDs and winning games. It’s a tough business.

So the question is: Why does Pete Carroll put up with this? It’s really been unfair to single out Earl Thomas this week, given that both Lynch and Baldwin got hefty contract extensions in the wake of their visual F-bombs. If I were a Seahawk, it would be very clear to me by now that such gestures are not taken by the front office as insults. It’s almost like they are terms of endearment.

Maybe that gesture was Earl’s final appeal for a contract extension?

I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

There’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. 

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