Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Football players – their complete sense of entitlement (and lack of morality)

It never ceases to amaze, almost shock you the sense of power elite athletes believe they have. While that sense of ‘privilege’ seems to exist in virtually every sport, the athletes who more often then not offend public morality are football players. It may be a few ‘bad apples in the barrel’ but at the end of the day the embarrassment football players bring to the teams they play for and their sport is one of shock and awe.

Monday two separate incidents one with a member of the San Diego Chargers, the other with two current and one former member of Mac Brown’s Texas football program once again showed the cavalier attitude athletes believe they have.

The Chargers handed starting outside linebacker Steve Foley his walking papers Monday by placing Foley on the teams’ non-football injury list. The move followed San Diego police shooting Foley three times Sunday near his San Diego home. NFL teams are allowed to place injured players on their teams’ non-football list if the injury that prevents them from playing is considered an injury that prevents them for fulfilling the terms of their contracts and that injury is not football related. The key to the non-football injury list, the NFL’s CBA allows teams to not pay that players salary. Foley will not be able to collect his $1.65 million salary this season, which consists of a $775,000 base and an $875,000 roster bonus.

Days away from the start of their season, Foley many believed was a key in the Chargers 2006 fortunes. Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, signed Foley in 2004 in what was the start of building one of the NFL's top and most feared 3-4 defenses. Foley, who turns 31 next Monday, has 29 starts as a Charger and is considered one of the leaders on the team.

Smith offered Foley and his family support Monday when he announced he wasn’t going to be paying Foley's salary, and made it clear to ESPN.com he wasn’t going to deal with what amounted to a business decision.

"It's a personal matter," Smith told ESPN.com. "This is a personal matter for Steve Foley, his family and his attorney. They are handling the matter. They are the first ones who deal with us."

One of the policies Smith has established during his reign as Chargers general manager dictates once the Chargers organization decides to place on a player on the teams’ non-football injury list, the players’ agent and lawyers must take the next step.

"If it is an off-the-field matter this is how we deal with it," Smith said. "This has been consistent with us. If it is an on-the-field matter in a game or a practice, then we are the front-runners."

According to the police reports, the officer pulled out a gun and ordered Foley to stop. Foley then got back in his car and drove toward his home. After getting out of the car again, Foley moved toward the officer. Warning shots were fired by the off-duty officer. Two shots were fired at Foley's vehicle when a female companion reportedly revved the engine and drove toward the officer. After Foley reached into his pants with his right hand, the officer fired at Foley.

In the Lone Star State, days away from the game that could determine whether coach Mac Brown’s Texas Longhorn football program are going to defend the National Championship they won in last years’ BCS title game, when starting cornerback Tarell Brown and backup safety Tyrell Gatewood were arrested on misdemeanor marijuana charges.

Brown also was charged with possession of a handgun, a Class A misdemeanor.

Mack Brown, who led the Longhorns to their first National Championship in 25 years, their fourth overall with a 41-38 win over top-ranked USC in the BCS Rose Bowl, offered little if anything Monday night when he was asked what (if anything) he would do regarding Brown’s and Gatewood’s status as members of the Longhorn football team.

“We are aware of the situation with Tarell (Brown) and Tyrell (Gatewood) and have met with both of them. We're working closely with the young men and the authorities. At this time, we are holding them out of all team functions as we gather as much information as possible before making a team decision...”

If they're the only off the field antics football players had created in the last week their actions might be considered an aberration. Let’s go back and review some, and the key word is ‘some’ of the questionable actions football players left as their legacy over the last seven days.

In Toronto, allegations concerning starting offensive tackle Bernard Williams surfaced over the weekend suggesting Williams met a 21-year-old woman at a downtown Toronto nightclub last Monday night. He left with the woman and went to the home of the woman's friend in the Rathburn Rd. and Renforth Ave. area in Etobicoke, according to sources. After an alleged sexual encounter some time after 3 a.m. Tuesday, police began to investigate.

Thursday, Williams, a former first-round draft pick of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, turned himself in to police and was charged with one count of sexual assault.

Williams’ troubles with the legal system began after his rookie NFL season in 1994. In his first year Williams started all 16 games for the Eagles, and made the league's all-rookie team. Seemingly with the world at his fingertips, Williams was suspended for most of the 1995 season repeatedly testing positive for marijuana. With two years and $5.1 million remaining on his first and only NFL contract he’s ever signed, Williams walked away from the NFL in 1996.

"I didn't want to stop using (marijuana)," Williams told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal in 1997. "My second season (in the NFL) my thoughts were all screwed up.

"I made so much money in bonuses my second year I thought, `Well, I'm not going to miss that much money. Next year I'll come back.' Next year turned into another year and that year is turning into this year."

Williams played for the B.C. Lions in 2000, in the XFL and in the Arena Football League before joining the Toronto Argonauts in 2003. Williams played in the Argonauts game Monday evening, the team believing everyone is innocent until their proven guilty.

In Pittsburgh the Steelers are getting ready to defend the Super Bowl they won in February, have plenty of off-field distractions they’re being forced to deal with. The domestic violence trial of Steelers No. 1 draft pick Santonio Holmes has been postponed more than three months while talks continue about a possible deal that might involve counseling provided through either the Steelers or the NFL.

According to a report in The Toledo Blade, Holmes stands accused of domestic violence and assault charges in connection with a June 19 incident involving LaShae Boone, his Columbus girlfriend and the mother of one of his three children. The domestic violence charge is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in prison, but it is unlikely he would face jail time.

Boone reportedly wants the charges dropped despite the recording of a 9-1-1, call she made that night and a statement she gave police in which she accused Holmes of "choking [her], throwing her to the ground, grabbing her arms, and slamming her into a door, leaving her with bruises, pain, and a torn shirt."

Former NFL running back Dave Meggett was charged with second-degree rape of his former girlfriend Thursday. Meggett, who played for 10 seasons with the New York Giants, New England Patriots and New York Jets, is accused of raping the 27-year-old woman Wednesday or Thursday at her home, Pitt County Sheriff's Detective P.E. Moore said Friday.

"They were having some problems," Moore said, adding that the couple had an on-again, off-again relationship for about five years. "He wanted to get back with her and she didn't. He came over to see her and things went bad."

Are these the only incidents concerning football players, no just a handful from the last few days. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education: In June alone, Thomas Clayton, a Kansas State University running back, was convicted of misdemeanor battery after ramming his sports-utility vehicle into a university employee who was trying to place a wheel lock on the illegally parked car. The University of California quarterback Steve Levy reportedly threw a pint glass at a bouncer's face during a bar fight. Avery Atkins, a University of Florida cornerback, was arrested after police said he punched the mother of his child more than a dozen times. And Matthew Thomas, captain of Harvard University's football team, was arrested for allegedly breaking into his former girlfriend's dormitory room and assaulting her.

Sharon K. Stoll, a professor of physical education at the University of Idaho and the director of its Center for Ethical Theory and Honor in Competition and Sport, has been studying morality in sports since the 1980s.

During the past two decades, she has measured the moral-reasoning abilities of more than 70,000 college athletes, evaluating their written responses to various scenarios. Her research has found that, on the whole, athletes have significantly lower moral-reasoning skills than the general student population — and she says that is a direct result of the competitive sports environment.

"I always believed that, if athletics has a worth for education," she says, "then we should do something — an intervention — to help the moral reasoning of athletes."

Yes – Stoll believes football players do not have the necessary ability to decide between what is right and what is wrong in society. In what shouldn’t surprise anyone, Stoll's nearly two decade of research into how football players react off the field (as members of society), frequently develop a sense of entitlement, are not encouraged to think for themselves, and rarely face consequences for acting irresponsibly. While they may know right from wrong, they often believe they can get away with anything.

"On the field, all coaches do is bark and scream," Ms. Stoll told the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Athletes rarely get to sit down with coaches and talk about these issues — life struggles, and what's right, and morality."

Three years ago ESPN produced their best original programming in the 27-year history of the all-sports network, Playmakers. Conceived as a fictional look at an NFL teams’ season, then NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue called then Disney CEO Michael Eisner making it clear the NFL didn’t appreciate the fictional account of an NFL season. Two of the central characters in Playmakers were a rookie who used drugs on a regular basis and the teams’ star running back who was suspended after he was accused of domestic violence. Ironically in the fictionalized version the player was suspended, but in a real life situation (at least in the Canadian Football League and with a 2006 first round draft pick) its game on.

As Stoll’s study illustrates football players believe they’re above the law. They likely believe they’re better then everyone else. Should society expect this attitude to change – well you can hope but its never going to happen. Saturday evening Ohio State travels to Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium to meet the Longhorns. 80,082 will pack the stadium, generating millions of dollars for the University of Texas athletic department. Will Mack Brown take a stand this week and sit out the two members of his team who were arrested Sunday. The San Diego Chargers decision to cut Steve Foley has less to do with winning football games and more to do with saving $1.65 million.

What matters to a college football program in 2006 has everything to do with winning, and realizing the financial benefits of a winning program. In the National Football League with each team guaranteed $106 million in television rights fees before the season begins, cutting a player and saving money is what any business would do. Cast aside morality – when it comes to football its bad business.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: ESPN.com, The Toronto Star, The Toledo Blade, The Chronicle for Higher Learning