Not always sunny in Philadelphia
As Shawn Andrews deals with his dark NFL past, the future is bright in Little Rock.
Shawn Andrews sat in the bedroom of his mother’s rundown rented home in Camden and watched on television as Donovan McNabb writhed in pain with a broken fibula. Little did the future University of Arkansas All-American tackle know that two years later he’d be protecting the Philadelphia Eagles star.
In light of the recent bullying case in the Miami Dolphins locker room involving second-year lineman Jonathan Martin and veteran teammate Richie Incognito, Andrews has spoken out about a rocky relationship with McNabb. During a recent radio interview on Philadelphia radio, Andrews says he was “disgusted” by how McNabb treated him.
Andrews alleges McNabb and other Eagles players spread rumors concerning Andrews’ sexual orientation. The gossip spread to other players on different NFL teams, and by the end of his six years in Philadelphia, Andrews had contemplated suicide and eventually had to seek psychiatric treatment, which meant missing the 2008 training camp.
“It just felt like I was in a living hell,” Andrews says of his time with the Eagles.
Multiple attempts to reach McNabb through his representation about Andrews’ allegations were unsuccessful. He also hasn’t responded publicly to the radio interview.
After missing most of the 2008 and all of the 2009 season with back injuries, the Eagles released Andrews, and he spent the 2010 season, his final year in the NFL, with the New York Giants. That started the healing process which has continued in Little Rock where Andrews lives in an upscale neighborhood with his wife, Janetta, and the couple’s 5-year-old son, JaShawn (nicknamed “J.J.”). Andrews’ mother, Linda, lives nearby as does his older brother Stacy, also a former NFL lineman who was his brother’s teammate for a short time in Philadelphia.
“I’m having a blast now,” Andrews says. “I’m just trying to focus on the positive things and stay away from the negative energy.”
Andrews says he couldn’t escape the negativity in Philadelphia. Early in his 2004 rookie year, he sensed bad vibes. Linda had warned him growing up about trusting the wrong people, and Andrews says he soon realized many of his teammates were two-faced.
“For a long time I just watched people. I interacted, but I just watched people,” Andrews says. “There were so many people that were Christian and going to church and saying, ‘Rookie, be seen and not heard,’ and then I see them in the back of the club doing some not-so-cool things being married. Everything under the sun — trying to tell you how to act. One guy out of the two who I thought I would fully respect during my time in Philadelphia, one of them let me down big time. Every time you see him, he’d have a Bible in his hand, and be coming from Bible study, but I know so many things about him that so many people would not be happy about.”
Andrews noticed players were cliquish, and would “be talking about Eagles, Eagles, Eagles when the cameras were on, and when they went off it would be like, ‘Screw you.’”
And then there was McNabb. The No. 2 pick in the 1999 NFL draft and six-time Pro Bowler ruled the roost. Andrews says teammates and support staff went out of their way to suck up to the former Syracuse University two-sport star, and McNabb enjoyed being in the limelight and abiding by a different set of rules than the rest of the players.
“I could be sitting in the players’ lounge with a group, having some laughs, and he’d get his say in so the attention can shift,” Andrews says. “He was the type of person that had everything in the world he could want, but that still wasn’t enough. He wanted the attention on him. There was a whole lot of that behavior. He wasn’t just that way with me. I’m thinking, ‘Every day I strap on my shoulder pads and helmet, I’m here to protect you.’
“[McNabb] was a big part of it — he was a big part of my issues there. Bully is a strong word, but he was degrading to me and spread rumors. It’s bothered me that I haven’t really spoken about it.”
The rumors regarding Andrew’s sexual orientation spread around the Eagles’ facility and beyond. Andrews says he received a text message from his stylist one day. The woman worked for several teammates and players on other teams. She warned Andrews that he should be more careful when talking about his personal life with teammates. That was a red flag for Andews, since he rarely talked to his teammates.
“She was talking to one of the guys she was working with, with the Minnesota Vikings. My name came up and he said, ‘I heard ol’ boy was …. Then it happened a week later with another guy from another team,” Andrews says.
Andrews says he has nothing against gay people, but in the NFL, the rumor could ruin a player’s earning potential.
“It’s the worst thing that you could be labeled as in the NFL,” says former NFL wide receiver Reggie Swinton, a Little Rock native. “Football is a barbaric sport. You are supposed to be tough, and if people are saying you are gay, and you are not, that is going to forever stick with you. Football is a contact sport and players on other teams hear that, they might come after you. There are so many people that are homophobic. I knew Shawn wasn’t [gay] because I know him.”
Andrews isn’t sure why McNabb and others targeted him. He speculates it could have been the way he wore his hair, which at one point was a mohawk with a blond, and later, red, streak in it. Andrews’ demeanor is one of a giant kid — he even had a room in his home dedicated to cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, another quirk that may not be understood by NFL players. “I really have no idea why,” Andrews says of why he was targeted.
“Some guys, they just find one thing and run with it,” his brother Stacy Andrews says. “Us having a little style and swag, they just ran with that. Big guys don’t usually wear Vans shoes, but we do. They made some comments and snickered about that. They may not like it that you dress a little different.”
Stacy says Andrews told him of the “horror stories” before he joined his younger brother in Philadelphia. Stacy says he never heard any of the players directly make comments regarding his brothers’ sexual orientation, but he saw how the team “cliqued up” and caught guys looking at the brothers as they walked by different lunch tables.
“It wasn’t like any locker room I had seen in Cincinnati, Seattle or New York [Giants]. Those locker rooms were more together. There was a lot of egos in Philly, and you had four or five groups together. I saw that since day one.”
Andrews says the questioning and rumors became so great among teammates that he waited until everyone was out of the shower before he entered the shower, so as to not raise suspicion that he was looking at others. Either that, or he raced to a shower in the corner where he could face the wall and not be accused of peeping.
“If you want to question someone, I’d see guys in the shower talking face to face,” Andrews says. “If you want to go further, I’ve even seen a teammate piss on another teammate. They think it’s funny. They are having a conversation and the whole time one guy is peeing on him and the other doesn’t even know. This is the stuff that goes on, and I am the one having to defend myself. There were a lot of immature dudes on the team.”
Andrews tried confronting McNabb. He “gave me this weird look and denied it,” Andrews says.
“I went into Coach [Andy] Reid’s office and told him it might be a good idea if I was traded because I was so fed up that I was afraid I might do some uncharacteristic and uncool things,” Andrews says. “I’m a loving guy and so many guys have gotten it twisted up. They totally misunderstood me. When you are dealing with a guy who presumably has everything on the outside looking in — commercials, endorsements and making a $10 million contract — and it’s still not enough attention for him.”
After the 2007 season, Andrews hit a breaking point. He was fresh off a Pro Bowl selection, and he had settled down with Janetta after the birth of J.J. However, the toxic Eagles locker room was too much.
“There have been times where I have said, ‘I hate that I am here. Why am I here?’” Andrews says. “But one time I had a crazy idea of flipping my car. I knew I didn’t want to kill myself because I wouldn’t use a gun. I was a coward in that regard. Because if I flip my vehicle and I’m paralyzed and I live ... that’s the kind of stuff that went through my head. I was kind of at my wit’s end, but I was still afraid to talk to somebody. The very first person I opened up to was a paid psychiatrist. It was hard to do.”
Andrews refused to report to training camp before the 2008 season, and his agent, Rich Moran, flew to Little Rock after consulting with Reid. Moran promised Reid, who he played for in Green Bay for two seasons when Reid was an assistant, that he would find a local psychiatrist for Andrews to see, and then have that doctor report to the Eagles’ medical staff.
Moran delivered, but not without resistance from Andrews. Andrews locked himself in a hotel room and refused to meet the psychiatrist. Finally, when Andrews relented, he found relief. He had years of emotional distress pent up dating back to a rough childhood growing up without a father around.
“With a knee or a back you know something is wrong there. You can see it. With Shawn, you knew something was wrong because he had just played in the Pro Bowl and had a new son,” Moran says. “It’s not as obvious as a knee or a back, but when a guy who is playing the way he was and loves football doesn’t want to go to camp, you know something is wrong.”
A Little Rock psychiatrist began treating Andrews for depression, and the Eagles waived the $15,000 per day fine the club dished out for his 17-day absence from camp. That still didn’t keep fans, teammates and media from criticizing him from holding out. One letter Andrews received was particularly disturbing. It read, “The next time I see your name, I hope it is in your obituary.”
“It definitely broke my heart,” Janetta says. “Nobody likes to see anybody they love and care about hurt whether it’s emotionally, spiritually or physically. And it’s even harder when you see them hurting, and there is absolutely nothing you can do for them except pray that God fixes it.”
Still, Andrews’ mental state improved and he rejoined the Eagles. His first order of business was to visit Reid and ask for permission to apologize to the team and explain his condition. Reid agreed and Andrews stood in front of a full training camp squad of players, some of whom wouldn’t make the team, and made an impassioned speech.
“I poured my heart out. I’m not a public speaker, so I was nervous,” Andrews says. “But I felt it had to be done, so I was standing there talking, and in the middle of talking to them I was making eye contact with as many of the [players] as I could. So guess who was looking at me rolling his eyeballs? Can you guess who was doing that while I was pouring my heart out to my teammates? You know how that made me feel? After that, my thoughts were so screwed up. Then I started to stutter and thought, ‘These guys probably think I’m full of sh*t.’ At that point I really cared. [McNabb] was rolling his eyes at me the whole time.”
A series of injuries didn’t help Andrews’ reputation with teammates, fans or the organization (excluding Reid), who had awarded Andrews a lengthy extension after the 2006 season. Andrews had broken his leg as a starter in the first game of his rookie year. He started all 16 games during the 2005 and 2006 seasons and earned Pro Bowl honors (and a Pro Bowl bid in 2007), but had to be carted off the field with a head injury in the 2006 Divisional Playoffs at New Orleans.
Then after missing 2008 training camp, Andrews injured his back after two games. He had surgery and tried to come back in 2009 but injured his back again. Andrews says teammates and fans thought he was faking the injury. Moran says the first back injury was misdiagnosed. While working with a Los Angeles physical therapist, Heather Milligan, Andrews discovered he had a different injured vertebra and would once again require surgery. “There is no way he was faking,” Milligan told NFL Network show The Season.
The Eagles released Andrews on June 2, 2010.
Unfortunately, rejection is nothing new for Andrews. As a chubby youngster, he spent his days at elementary school chasing kids who spat on him or tried to pull up his shirt to reveal he wasn’t wearing name-brand jeans.
“[The teasing] was a big part of [the depression],” Andrews says. “The tag-check days were more and more intense. It got to the point where I just tore my damn tag off. That could be any day, it wasn’t a specific day. You could be standing there and somebody would rush over and [pull up your shirt] and say, ‘You aren’t wearing Levi’s’ or whatever brand. It was just ignorance.”
Stacy, two years older, says his brother didn’t confide in him about the teasing. Stacy avoided the wrath by not being as much of a target, as he wasn’t overweight and kept to himself.
The teasing continued into high school, even though Andrews had blossomed into a star athlete. Even then, classmates weren’t warm, and he claims he doesn’t have any childhood friends.
“I never told anyone it was my dream to play for the Razorbacks,” Andrews says. “Once they found out they said, ‘Dude. You are just like us. You aren’t going to make it.’ They called me all kinds of stuff and told me to give up. I just persevered.”
Andrews says when he earned his first NFL contract, some around Camden hounded Linda for money. One of them was the one friend Andrews had since his younger days. Andrews claims that friend tried to lure him to some hunting ground to shoot him.
“It’s a shame I don’t really have any friends from [Camden] or when I played football,” Andrews says. “I have my wife, my mom and my two brothers [an older brother, Derrick, is retired from the military]. My immediate family. That’s it, but that’s OK.”
Before his retirement, there were two times when Andrews found happiness — his three years at the University of Arkansas and his six-month stint with the New York Giants.
At Arkansas, Andrews says he enjoyed playing with quarterback Matt Jones. “[I] would go to war any time with those guys,” he says. He also became close with Jason Peters, who was briefly an Eagles teammate, but they don’t stay in regular contact now.
Andrews left Fayetteville encouraged as he began his pro career.
By the time he reached New York in 2010, though, he was tired mentally from the abuse in Philadelphia, and he had endured two back surgeries.
The Giants were the best case for Andrews. He says the Giants organization embraced him immediately, which was in stark contrast to Philadelphia. From the cooks to the custodians to teammates, positivity was abundant.
“We were in the weight room the day after a game, stretching, and Eli [Manning] came up to me and said, ‘Shawn, thanks for protecting me,’” Andrews says. That never happened in Philadelphia. I had heard that Tom Brady bought his linemen Mercedes. That ‘thank you’ was my Mercedes. That meant a lot to me, but the entire organization was like that.
“I had the time of my life in New York. I just wished I could have played a few more seasons there.”
Another back flare-up ended his career, but he left football happy and in a positive mental state.
“I could have shot my back up and played more, but I was already seeing the effects from doing that,” Andrews says. “I’m really content with what happened in New York.”
These days, Andrews’ main worry is what kind of meat he’ll smoke for dinner. Andrews, who weighed from 340 to 380 pounds during his NFL career, has dropped down to around 300 pounds since and keeps it off by cooking with fresh, natural foods. He cleaned the family’s cupboard of preservative-filled items and provides healthy meals each day.
“Shawn is America’s Top Chef in my book,” Janetta says. “He knows his way around the kitchen much better than I do. Every day I look forward to his meals. Sometimes they get a little adventurous, but they are still delicious.”
Andrews also spends as much time as possible with J.J. He never misses one of J.J.’s school activities or flag football games, and admits he even enjoys the carpool lane at school. He knows firsthand how important it is to be there as a father, as he struggled without one.
“I have a core family and a son who depends on me, needs me and loves his dad. I have a mom that loves me, and I have a lot of reasons to still want to be here. I am really happy.”
Comedy, cooking possible futures for Andrews
Shawn Andrews has played football in front of thousands of fans. Sometimes those packed stadiums have been less than friendly, but the former NFL Pro Bowler was rarely fazed.
However, it’s been a different story lately as he has performed stand-up comedy at a local comedy club and at other venues’ open mic nights.
“I have had some good, amazing times and I’ve dropped the ball,
Andrews says. “I have some trouble with my memory sometimes where I go totally blank. That happened on stage one time. I’m talking about within seconds of me walking on stage. One day it was my insecurity of my hairline receding. As a young comedian, especially being a big guy like myself, people want to see your face, so I went up there with a hat on, teetering between ‘I know I shouldn’t have the hat on’, and ‘they want to see my eyes.’ I was focused on that, and I dropped the ball. I said, ‘Don’t give up on me. I’m gonna keep on working.’ I just walked off the stage. I got to a couple of little things before I left. One of the professional comics said, ‘Hey dude, I can tell you are funny. Don’t give up.’”
Andrews says he plans to perform more soon and would enjoy putting more energy into making the pastime a career.
“I’ve been around comedy a long time. That’s all I used to do in Philadelphia,” Andrews says. “I enjoyed the nightlife, but my thing later on was the comedy club. When I went, most of the time I was sitting up front and studying things. I noticed sometimes people didn’t come to laugh, and they would fold their arms up. For a long time before I did my first set, I wondered why everybody doesn’t laugh. It goes back to the thing of you can’t please everybody. I got over that, and I was fine. I’ve had some really good sets, though.”
Andrews’ older brother Stacy says Andrews has always been a cut-up and kept the brothers laughing, even though their home life was tough with no father and a mother who worked constantly to provide. Andrews shows his comedic flair in his Twitter feed. Whether he’s covering his obsession of food or his traveling exploits, he adds a comedic twist.
“I think Shawn will be an amazing comedian. He keeps me laughing all the time,” Andrews’ wife Janetta says. “And the stories he has to tell are hilarious. Well … only the jokes about other people are funny; not some of the ones involving me.”
Food is also a passion and a potential post-football career path. Andrews grew up with very little food in the house. Sometimes dinner consisted of “ketchup and potato chip sandwiches or a 99-cent pack of cookies,” he says.
At the University of Arkansas, Andrews made up for lost time and took full advantage of the all-you-can-eat training table and ballooned to 400 pounds before he entered the NFL Draft. Andrews at one point could down nine Big Macs or an eight-piece chicken dinner with three sides and two apple pies in a sitting; now, he is still passionate about food, but he eats healthier.
He now smokes meat and has recently been inspired by a parent he met at his son’s flag football game who supplies smoked meats to a local restaurant. “I like to cook, but I do it for fun. Why not make some change?” he says. “I would love to smoke some meat for a restaurant or even open my own barbecue restaurant or have a spot where we could have cook-offs.”
Andrews, who says he is also working on some undisclosed business ventures, isn’t too worried about another career. He claims he was “pretty smart” with his money and is financially secure. Janetta says her husband is much happier away from the pressures of football that triggered depression, and he now enjoys spending holidays with family and being able to spend time with the couple’s 5-year-old son, J.J.
“I know he isn’t in any hurry, but I think he could really help some people with what he chooses to do,” says Andrews’ agent, Rich Moran. “He’s beaten the trifecta — weight gain, depression and back pain. I think he could definitely help kids and others with weight challenges and how to eat healthy. He has done it himself — he’s a good example. He’s helped me drop some pounds. I don’t think he has an exact road map, but I can see him helping people. That’s the kind of guy he is.”