DeAndre Hopkins was a gift to the Cardinals. It didn’t take him long to return the birds.
The prolific wide receiver flipped off a participant(s) in a “Trump Train” caravan on Sunday, igniting a social media firestorm. It occurred as Hopkins was utilizing a Valley freeway on his way to State Farm Stadium for a Sunday night game against the Seahawks, after he became entangled in the traveling sideshow that has clogged our major thoroughfares on a recent weekend.
I know the scene. I came upon a similar caravan on the Loop 101 two weekends ago, on my way to Arizona State University. I was shocked at the level of endangerment:
Horns honked. Flags waved. People paid attention to one another and not the rules of the road. There were motorcycles, mobile homes, vehicles hauling video boards and other visual propaganda. There was even a pair of dump trucks along for the joyride, flags flying proudly from the back.
The caravan surged and slowed without warning. Those looking to safely pass and escape the political revelry encountered other obstacles, like dimwitted gawkers and swerving motorists filming the event with their cellphones. The dystopian scene was a reminder that political fervor has its time and its place, and it’s not at 65 miles per hour, on our nation’s freeways.
This is not political. It’s public safety. And that was the explanation put forth by Hopkins, who addressed the incident on Tuesday during his guest appearance on the All Things Covered, teammate Patrick Peterson and former Cardinal Bryant McFadden’s podcast.
“Driving on the highway, I guess I got in between a train or a bunch of cars that I wasn’t supposed to be in with my car,” said Hopkins, who was driving a black Ferrari convertible. “They were honking the horn at me and stuff like that, I guess to tell me to get out of their way. I didn’t, and the guy in front of me stepped on his brakes and tried to stop there in traffic, and I got around him and I stuck him a birdie.”
In other words, Hopkins is claiming that it wasn’t a political statement, even though he’s one of the most socially active players in the NFL. It was a garden-variety case of road rage.
“I was really about to do the ‘Peace’ sign to him but my index finger, this finger right here, was kind of hurting so it (didn’t) make it up in time,” Hopkins said. “I was like, ‘Damn, dude, you’re trying to step on your brakes in dead traffic because I’m in your guys’ train or whatnot? I’m just trying to go to work. It was nothing (more), throwing nothing at the car or anything like that. No speeding. If I was in a Ferrari speeding, you wouldn’t be able to take a still picture.”
Whatever this story is and however it makes you feel, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Hopkins can be a polarizing figure. He’s not afraid of taking stands. He’s a strong advocate of racial equality, and was one of a handful of marquee NFL players who appeared in a video following the death of George Floyd. He has courage, conviction and won’t be dissuaded by public pressure.
Also, a friendly reminder: You can’t get a star player without the personality traits that make them great. The same was true of Michael Jordan and his maniacal competitiveness. It was true with Randy Johnson and the intensity he harbored and harnessed every fifth day.
Hopefully, this isn’t posing a philosophical dilemma for Trump-supporting Cardinals fans. Hopkins is one of Arizona’s newest stars. He leads the NFL in receptions and receiving yards. He practices on his schedule yet produces at an elite level every Sunday. He’s an awesome addition to our sporting portfolio.
It’s one thing to let politics creep into sports. It’s another to lose affinity for a young superstar in his prime based on political division, in the madness of a highly-contentious presidential election. To fully enjoy the Hopkins experience, one must embrace everything about the young star. The Texans could no longer do that, which is why he became available in the first place.
Hopkins also made it clear on Tuesday that he wasn’t protesting a political figure or a political party. He was stuck in an unnecessary traffic jam on his way to work. We can all relate to that.
Better yet, let’s look at the entire incident as a metaphor and not a statement:
The Ferrari is Arizona’s offense. Hopkins is so talented that he can occasionally drive with his knee. And the angry birds he flashed are a message for the rest of the NFL, just before the Cardinals hit the accelerator.
Does that work for everyone?