“I Became What They Said I Was” | Former Running Back Eric Dickerson Unloads On The NFL In “Watch My Smoke” Memoir

(Photo by Scott Varley/Digital First Media/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images)

Eric Dickerson is telling his truth, and it plunges right into the heart of the NFL.

The former running back’s upcoming memoir, “Watch My Smoke,” revisits Dickerson’s standoff that resulted at the end of his first NFL team tenure.

TSL Sports Talk- Eric Dickerson On Player Benefits And HOF Protest

The standout from Southern Methodist University finished third in Heisman Trophy voting behind Herschel Walker and John Elway. He was also a First-Team All-American in 1982 and a Second-Team All-American in 1981.

Dickerson’s Game

However, as a pro player, Dickerson set records only three years into his NFL career. He had a rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards in 1983. He also set the single-season rushing mark of 2,105 yards in 1984, eventually helping to lead the Los Angeles Rams to the NFC Championship game in 1985.

Behind the scenes, Dickerson was torn between his love for the game that was changing his life while loathing the business riddled with racism and income disparities.

Dickerson gets real in this except shared with the media:

On realizing that the NFL is a business

By the end of the ’84 season, my outlook about being a pro football player had begun to change. I was waking up to the way the league worked, no longer a wide-eyed rookie who was just happy to be there. The newspapers had started publishing players’ salaries, and I’d see what other guys were making compared to my salary. I’d see how the Rams treated their players. Like how they’d cut guys who got injured in the middle of the season. Like how team leaders and good players would get traded, because while it’s all about the team inside the locker room, it’s all about profit for the people upstairs.

On stalemating to make more money

I wanted $1.4 million a season — but I was slated to earn $200,000, which wasn’t even in the top 15 among running backs. The Rams didn’t budge. So I went back home to my mom’s house when training camp started. I expected to be back in camp in just a few days, but then a week went by without a new deal, and then two weeks went by. I wound up staying home for 47 days.

On the media’s unfair assessment of him

While I sat at home, the writers back in L.A. teed off on me. Our relationship had always been tense. I’d been mistrustful of the media since high school and had never been the warm and cuddly superstar they’d wanted. A lot of guys, many who come from rough home lives, seek validation from the media and love from the public, but that was never me. I got plenty of love at home from my mom and dad, so I didn’t come to the media needing anything, and I think that rubbed people the wrong way. When I held out, the writers showed their true feelings about me.

The names they called me sting to this day: Eric the Ingrate. That word: Ingrate. It even sounds like the n-word. It tells me I should be happy I was getting paid at all. It tells me to shut up and run.

On how he dealt with unfair criticism

Then my holdout with the Rams. The writers were too savvy to say so explicitly, but they were basically trading on that old stereotype to describe me: The angry Black guy. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy because after they wrote that s—, I became what they said I was.

All I did was ask for basic fairness, which is something every American should do. But yeah, it’s just different for us, and for that, I was portrayed as a bad guy by a bunch of old white guys (the media) doing the bidding of another bunch of old white people (team management). The things they wrote were so unfair and made me feel so powerless. The best analogy I can think of is that it’s like being convicted of a crime I didn’t commit.

Room With A View

Dickerson also champions Kaepernick’s peaceful protest when he was still playing in the NFL as one of the most prominent examples of White America’s trepidation with openly discussing America’s racial inequalities.

Like many other former players in the age of instant information and connectedness, Dickerson provides more insight into what it means to a Black professional football player.


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Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.