"Somebody, throw me a bone, here!"
One of the primary reasons I choose to write about football is that I think it is a sport that brings out the best in men. Football encourages and enhances admirable character attributes, and its participants make countless significant contributions to our communities that go relatively unnoticed. I believe those with the loudest bullhorns do a lousy job of articulating these concepts, and it is partially with that in mind that I founded this site. So, it is with no measure of joy but rather my distaste for hypocrisy that I must ask the following question:
What the hell are you guys doing?!?
It is bad for any business, but particularly those with multi-billion-dollar television contracts, to have its key employees committing crimes or engaging in obviously self-destructive, or worse, community-endangering, behavior. And as much as I wish it weren’t so, the NFL has a serious problem on its hands. If you run a business, is it good that your workforce inspires clever ideas about smartphone applications that track your employees’ criminal exploits? No. No, it isn’t.
I’ll be the first to concede that sometimes these things get overblown in a world of non-stop media. For instance, if Vince Young isn’t Vince Young, that little incident in the strip club doesn’t even make the local freebie paper police blotter. And probably was instigated by some loser looking to challenge a big-time NFL baller. Fair enough. But, here’s my point: If you’re Vince Young, don’t you need to know these things going in? Look, I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to be a professional athlete, or to be able to relate to the kinds of pressures they face as a result of both their job and the high profile that comes with it. But I can say with supreme confidence that none of these things would ever happen to me, because I just wouldn’t put myself in that position. If I’m an NFL player, my outlook is plain and simple: nobody gets an opportunity to rip my golden ticket. Period.
The two most egregious befowlers of the NFL landscape in recent years have been Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick. Both possessing elite on-the-field talent, each has shown a shocking inability to behave even halfway responsibly off the field.
I am all for second chances. But if you’re Michael Vick, what the hell are you doing still hanging out with felon co-defendants from the dogfighting fiasco and throwing public nightclub birthday parties? If you’re Big Ben, what the hell are you doing getting anywhere near a bar in a small Georgia college town? “What,” I can already hear the voices asking, “do you expect them to do? Lock themselves away in their homes and never go out?” Well, if this is what they are inclined to do when they go out, then I offer you this: “YES.” Short of that, let me offer you a simple rule to live by, three words that would (if properly heeded) have short-circuited most if not all of these recent incidents: “Don’t be an (idiot).” (P.G. version. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.) Really, how hard is it to do any of the following?
1) Remove all firearms from your regular travel luggage. You know, since they don’t let you take guns on planes. Or into airports. This seems obvious, but is apparently not well established in the Cleveland Browns defensive line meeting room.
2) If you must see a stripper or score some strange and you’re an NFL player or group of players, may I suggest Dwayne Bowe’s preferred method of acquisition? “It’s called ‘importing’.”
3) If you’ve previously been publicly accused, or worse, convicted of a criminal activity resulting in or even calling into question the possibility of your incarceration, try re-thinking every decision you make from now on at least twice before acting on it.
I sense the laughter out there, but I’m not joking. How many times do you think you can trot Tony Dungy or Donovan McNabb or the next sucker out there to vouch for your character? At some point, we have no choice but to conclude you’ve been exhibiting your true character all along.
Commissioner Goodell has made it clear that protecting the NFL brand is of critical importance to him. I believe he is doing the right thing by levying what I consider to be fairly significant penalties against guys that screw up in unacceptable ways. I like that he did not allow Big Ben to skate free just because he wasn’t convicted in a courtroom. There is nothing wrong with holding people to a standard higher than the mere civility required by the law.
But I also assumed, apparently incorrectly, that players would take note and adjust their behavior accordingly. It certainly appears that in a number of cases the cliche of the young, coddled athlete who believes he is immortal is dead on. It would be a shame should it come to this, but if things like the above continue, some unfortunate player will force the Commissioner’s hand. Nobody wants this. The Commish would no doubt prefer to stay home and kick it with Skinner and the kids. But Goodell will eventually have no choice but to lay the ultimate smackdown on someone and ban them from the NFL forever.
So, before it comes to that…Please, guys. Enough already.