The Dallas Cowboys handily beat the New York Giants last Sunday, winning 35-17. Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence had a solid game—two tackles, a half-sack, and a forced fumble—but it was his verbal roasting of a young Giants fan in the parking lot that got the most attention.
A video posted to Twitter shows a young fan decked out in a blue Giants hat and a Saquon Barkley jersey, an NY logo painted on his face for good measure. He’s standing outside MetLife Stadium after the game when Lawrence walks by.
A hand, presumably belonging to the kid’s parent, pushes him into the path of the NFL player, and the kid starts repeating “DeMarcus” while holding out a towel and a Sharpie: the international language for “can I have your autograph?” Lawrence doesn’t make eye contact and keeps walking.
That would probably have been it if Lawrence didn’t yell “Get the right jersey, son!” on his way to the van he was taking from the stadium.
The video, which was viewed more than 1.6 million times, inspired strong reactions—or at least the performance of strong reactions for the take-driven sports economy—from both talking heads and fans on Twitter who think that it’s Lawrence’s job to sign every autograph for every fan (it’s not) or that he’s not allowed to have a little fun when asked (he is).
There’s nothing wrong with a joke, and ribbing a rival fan seems like a good and fun thing for a professional athlete to do, particularly when the rivalry is as longstanding as that between the Giants and Cowboys.
Lawrence didn’t say anything vulgar or crude to the kid, and not getting an autograph isn’t exactly a traumatic experience. He rightly defended his actions on Twitter.
Sports are objectively more fun when rivalries are strong and players aren’t just cliche-spewing automatons. One of the better things about cell phones and social media is that we get spontaneous moments like this that would go unnoticed by traditional media.
But because those same forces can also expose athletes to an onslaught of criticism and hate, Lawrence ended up on the receiving end of the only real abuse in this incident.
It was enough to get him to change his tune, telling the Dallas Morning News, ironically at a pre-planned event with kids from the Boys and Girls Club of Collin County, that being seen as the villain hurt.
“That ain’t me. If I need to be me 24/7 to have my persona on the field and off the field, trust me, I would love to take it all back. I can’t have my persona on the field and off the field. … Sometimes, I can’t click it off fast enough. I ain’t even get one hit on Saquon Barkley in the game, so seeing that jersey, I kinda wanted to give him a little tackle.”
This kid likely heard plenty of cursing and encountered at least one drunk person at the game, which as a reminder features men performing violence on each other for entertainment. It’s entirely possible Lawrence’s crack was the most wholesome thing he heard all day, and it’s a shame that it’s what ended up being discouraged.