FRISCO, Texas -- It's not often in the NFL that players talk about past opponents weeks removed from playing them, but that's exactly what Dallas Cowboys two-time first-team All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons has done, defending both and after both have come under heavy criticism from analysts and fans on social media alike for their rocky starts to the 2023 season.
Wilson's heaviest criticism occurred after his best game of the season in Week 4 in a 23-20 loss against the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs. He totaled 245 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions on 28 of 39 passing for a 105.2 passer rating, as Sunday night marked the first game of Wilson's career in which he had multiple passing touchdowns and no interceptions in a game. He even outplayed reigning NFL and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, who threw for 203 passing yards while also accumulating a touchdown and two interceptions on 18 of 30 passing for a 63.6 passer rating. Those statistics led to Wilson being the first quarterback to have more completions, more passing yards, more passing touchdowns and fewer interceptions than Mahomes in a game opposite the two-time Super Bowl champion across his 127 starts in college and the NFL, according to OptaStats. Yet, retired safety Rodney Harrison, a current NBC Sports analyst, in a line of leading questions to Chiefs All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones postgame.
"I just feel like so many times the media just always puts those negative things on certain players," Parsons said Wednesday when explaining why he has used his social media presence to defend Wilson and Jones. "I just think it's almost like bullying online. We're just being social media bullies. You really hate to see that. It's one thing if you say I'm garbage to my face on the field and we're competing and we're hammering out and we're in the moment. But, it's another thing when a guy can't defend themselves. You don't know what's going on in his [locker] room. You don't know what's going on in the team, and you're just out there calling another man garbage on live TV. We see that in the draft where guys use these moments where this should be a special moment for a kid and bash him for his past.
"I just feel like as humans and as people who have these platforms, we should just be better and more mindful of how we talk about people and how those things can impact someone. You never know what someone's journey is. You never know what their story is. So I'm just calling out the social media bullies because we really shouldn't be like that."
Parsons was even more fired up to have Wilson's back given his harshest, most derogatory critic was a former NFL player.
"I think it is worse from a former player because you should know better than anyone how it goes, how you're treated, how things can be misinterpreted," Parsons said. "Especially because no one knows your defense better than you do. No one knows their offense better than they do. So, we don't know if Zach Wilson is making bad reads. We don't know if the receiver is making the wrong route. We don't know any of that stuff. We just know what we see from our own two eyes and it's all about perspective. Perspective of the judgment is what I'm talking about. I would never speak down on someone."
In the case of Jones, people across the internet piled on to him after the Giants were smoked on "Monday Night Football" on their home turf at MetLife Stadium in Week 4, losing 24-3 to the Seattle Seahawks. Jones threw two interceptions, including a 97-yard pick-six to rookie cornerback Devon Witherspoon, and was sacked 10 times, making him the most sacked Giants passer since Phil Simms was taken down 10 times at the San Francisco 49ers in Week 12 of the 1980 season.
Many were questioning the rationale behind the G-Men handing Jones a four-year, $160 million contract this offseason, the same deal Rams Super Bowl champion quarterback Matthew Stafford and Cowboys two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott are signed to. Parsons defended Jones on Tuesday and pointed to the Giants' offensive line, which is allowing pressure on 46.9% of their quarterback dropbacks -- the third-highest rate in the NFL ahead of only the New York Jets (47.1%) and the Chicago Bears (47.4%) -- as an additional guilty party to take the heat off of the quarterback.
"The Daniel Jones play, they talk about Daniel Jones so much, but I saw five people just come free like how is he supposed to make that read when he has six to eight defensive linemen in his face?" Parsons said. "It's just perspective, and I think people need to take better perspective on how they talk about people and how they treat people online."
Parsons and Harrison will have the chance to interact in person since the Cowboys are playing the San Francisco 49ers on NBC Sports' "Sunday Night Football." The NFL's co-leader in quarterback pressures (27) said he would take in the high road when seeing the former safety.
"To be honest, I would go on it [NBC Sports' postgame show in which Harrison is an analyst]," Parsons said. "I have no hate toward Rodney. I was just calling out that particular moment. A guy like Chris Jones would come up there, and it's like, 'Oh you're special.' I just don't want fake love. Fake love is always bad for me. You know, fake energy. You keep the same energy for everyone. We're not one to decide who is special and who is not. If Rodney came up to me and said I'm garbage too, I'll take it. Just be as real with me as possible. Be real with everyone. I wouldn't say I wouldn't do anything with Rodney because I have nothing, no hate. He has never done anything to me."
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These events have hit home for Parsons because when he was selected 12th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft out of Penn State, he too was on the receiving end of some online backlash. A piece of a lawsuit filed by a former Nittany Lions football player alleged that Parsons was one of four teammates who hazed and harrassed him. The Cowboys linebacker was not a defendant in the suit, and he called the allegations "false" in 2021. The university and head football coach James Franklin were eventually dismissed from the lawsuit.
"Yeah, for sure," Parsons said when asked if his draft night causes him to empathize with Wilson and Jones. "I know what it feels like to have everyone go against you. I know what it feels like to have people bash online. It's never good. You see the stuff, people tell you about the stuff. Even my mom would say 'Oh you see so and so got released?'... I've had 10 and 11-year-olds ask me, 'Do you like Dak? He throws interceptions.' I was like, 'What the hell, parents got to get them from Twitter.' You have to realize the influence that you guys have in these platforms because, listen, I don't want no 10-year-old telling me that my quarterback stinks. I definitely think we need to be mindful of what we see on TV and what we see online because these kids look up to us. We see more NFL players using their voice."
NBA players have long used their platforms for social justice causes, and Parsons believes it's important to do that and to speak your mind given any media opportunity. In his case, he gets how he really feels out to the world without having rumors spread about what he thinks.
"I'm a perfect example, I have a free mind on Twitter and social media because to be honest with you, it's bigger," Parsons said. "You should share your story, you should share your spirits and put it on other people because it just takes one person to see belief, bravery and courage. I'm big on courage. It's easy to do what everyone else is doing. It takes courage to do something different."
It appears easy for an All-Pro player of Parsons' stature to be as passionately himself because when he does talk trash, he usually backs it up on the field. However, the 24-year-old maintains he would still be this same version of himself if he were a benchwarmer.
"Even if I was trash, I would say what I say," Parsons said. "God gave you a vision. God gave you everything, the tools you need. Use it. Speak on it. That's why you have your own mind. Speak your mind."