Steckel was dismayed—though not shocked—when he saw the helmet-throwing incident. "When it happened, my heart ached for him because I thought, There he is again, showing signs [of pent-up anger] like so many other players," says Steckel. "They've got this built-in hostility about not only football but life in general. It's sad sometimes; these big, tough guys need a little TLC. I think he needs that."
Westbrook grew up among the working poor on Burnette Avenue on the west side of Detroit, living with his mother, Mercy Westbrook, as well as his grandmother, an older brother and sister, and three uncles. (The brother, Alonzo, is now a television news reporter in Charlotte. The sister, Lisa, is a hairdresser in Jacksonville.) The house had three bedrooms and a lot of religion. Michael's father, a construction worker named Bobby Sledge, who once played linebacker at Alabama A&M, lived in the neighborhood, but he and Michael weren't close. Mercy Westbrook supported the family by working at Frito-Lay, sorting potato-chip bags, never earning more than $27,000 in a year.
Since turning pro, Westbrook has bought a house for Mercy, another for his grandmother and one for himself. His, in Sterling, Va., has a 35-seat movie theater in which he can indulge his passion for karate flicks. In the garage is a $250,000 Lamborghini; when he was growing up, his family never owned a car. His bookshelves hold all of Anne Rice's novels, a reflection of his love of vampire stories. He has televisions, big ones and little ones, scattered throughout the house, but as he once told Charles Mann, a former Redskins defensive end who is now a sports reporter for WUSA-TV in Washington, "I never watch football. I'm not even a football fan."
Westbrook, who is not married, has a 21-month-old daughter, Ky Lisa Westbrook, who lives with her mother in Colorado. Last weekend Ky was in for a visit, but she didn't bring her dad and his teammates much luck. The Skins lost 23-20 on Sunday to the lowly St. Louis Rams. Veteran cornerback Ryan McNeil was all over Westbrook, who caught just three passes for 40 yards.
Nevertheless, McNeil had only praise for Westbrook afterward. "He's impressive," McNeil said. "He throws guys around like they're rag dolls. He's a fast big man. He's on the bubble of becoming a star."
Unfortunately for the Redskins, he's already acting like a star—a coddled one. When Westbrook came off the field after the helmet incident, Robiskie got in his face and said, "That was f——— stupid." To which Westbrook responded, "F—- you." Regarding the fight with Davis, Westbrook has told a friend that he thinks it was just his bad luck to have the punches captured by a TV camera. That's his chief regret.
Michael Westbrook talks about becoming one of the great ones, a Jerry Rice, better than Jerry Rice. He tells friends that all he needs is good health and more passes thrown in his direction. The Redskins are committed to him. They're eager to see what he will be when he finally grows up.