Monday, December 18, 2006

Do NFL players as men know right from wrong?

Getting to play on Sunday – that’s the goal of every youngster who grew up playing Pop Warner football, graduated to high school football, then college football and finally was good enough to play football on Sundays in the National Football League. Of the tens of thousands of children who grow up to become men that play football on Sunday, society often looks at these men as leaders in their communities, men among men, athletes who kids dream of one day becoming. One problem – the National Football League is perilously close to becoming a league filled with outlaws, deviants, men without a sense or an understanding of what is wrong from right.

The image of today’s National Football League player isn’t in community leaders like Atlanta Falcons running back Warrick Dunn who gives back to his community each and every day, but rather in the reprehensible conduct of Dallas Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens, the Cincinnati Bengals organization, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Terry "Tank" Johnson and the San Diego Chargers. When does enough become enough, and when will those entrusted with the responsibility of determining who gets the privilege of playing on Sunday, say to the Terrell Owens and others who exhibit deviant behavior – you’re not welcome to play on Sunday.

Saturday evening at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, the once proud Dallas Cowboys, who once believed they where “America’s Team”, for what must seem like the one millionth time to the Cowboys in the 2006 season, once again experienced how much of a distraction Terrell Owens has become to a team that remains a Super Bowl contender. For reasons known only to Owens, during the Cowboys opening drive of the game, Owens and Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall began yelling at each other as they left the field following a sack of Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, and Owens allegedly spat at Hall.

"That's like the No. 1 thing in the National Football League," Hall said during a post game interview on Fox. "You don't spit in another grown man's face. Hopefully, the NFL can see it and go back and watch the film just before the first punt of the game. We were kind of walking face to face, and he just hauled off and spit in my face. I lost all respect for the guy, man, after that."

"I think they should suspend him," Hall told Fox Sports. "It's ridiculous. At first I couldn't believe it happened and people who know me know how I'd want to haul off on him but I kept my composure about it and didn't retaliate. But the league should hit him by suspending him."

"I may have when we both were talking (smack) to each other," an unrepentant Owens told The Dallas Morning News after the game. "He was so close I may have while yelling back at him."

The reaction on the various Sunday NFL network shows was far different. ESPN’s NFL Countdown crew denounced Owens at the start of their two-hour show. Similar sentiments where expressed on Fox and CBS’ pre-game shows. This from CBS Sunday crew.

Shannon Sharpe: “Spitting in the face of DeAngelo Hall, and let me preface this by saying Congress is not in session, but they would have had to call an emergency session and pass special legislation to get me off T.O. if he had done that to me. T.O., you being from the South, I myself am from the South, you know that's one of the greatest taboos that you do not do to another man. And for you to be smug with a cavalier attitude in saying you’re sorry… Don't apologize to the public. Don’t apologize to us at these desks. Go in that locker room and apologize to DeAngelo Hall. Make him believe that you are sincerely apologetic for your actions. I don't believe for one second that you are sorry for what you did. You are sorry that you got caught and you had to face it.”

Boomer Esiason: “At least we know he's an equal opportunity offender. He will offend anybody: his own teammates, his own coaches, his owners. He will sabotage a particular season or franchise, and this time, now he goes across the line and spits in the face of an opposing player. I expect that Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the National Football League, will levy a swift and very strong fine. There is no precedent for him to be suspended, so I suspect this will be around the $25,000 range.”

Dan Marino: “Think if you are in that locker-room, and you’re a teammate of his, looking at what he's done, the respect he doesn't have for another player in the league, and also Bill Parcells. The great job they're doing, the bright future they have with this team and the quarterback to have to put up with a guy like T.O., bringing all the attention on him and these things he's doing, I don't see them being together next year, for sure. But they have a bright future and it's a shame.”

NBC’s Football in America pre game show ended a day where once again Terrell Owens and his inane actions took center stage on a day when those who long ago earned the right to play on Sunday’s had to share the stage with Terrell Owens.
Bob Costas mocking Owens: "Of course, that's justification, you're aggravated, you spit in somebody's face. What planet does TO reside on?"

Chris Collinsworth: "Here we go, back on the fool patrol again - how long do we have to do this?... I feel like I'm talking about my kids, this is so stupid!"

Jerome Bettis: "You cannot do something like this, you betray all the trust of your teammates, but also all the players in the NFL. This is a fraternity and when you do something like that you destroy the trust in that fraternity."

Saturday the front page of The Washington Post featured a full length expose on crime and National Football League players. According to the report: at least 35 NFL players have been arrested this year on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to felony burglary. If the league wasn’t concerned about the rampant criminal behavior of their athletes, they certainly made it clear to The Washington Post; NFL officials are not pleased with the actions of some of those getting to play on Sunday’s. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ‘declined’ an opportunity to address the issues raised by The Washington Post, deferring to his public relations staff.

"Most NFL players are good citizens, and some are outstanding citizens," Greg Aiello, the NFL's vice president of public relations, said via e-mail. "It's a small percentage of the 2,000 players in our league that becomes involved in incidents that do not reflect well on the NFL. We have policies and programs to deal aggressively with those issues, and we will continue to do so. The goal is to eliminate all such negative conduct. That may not be realistic, but that is the goal."

"I do not want the fans to turn us off because of off-field behavior," NFLPA head Gene Upshaw said. "It has happened in other sports, and I would not want that to happen to the NFL."

The biggest problem the National Football League continues to face with NFL players running into problems with the police is with the Cincinnati Bengals. Since the start of the Bengals training camp, no less than eight members of the team (several Bengals where released after their transgressions) where arrested for various alleged infractions.

"It's an embarrassment to our organization, to our city, and to our fans," Bengals coach Mavin Lewis said last week during a news conference. "These things socially are not right. Hopefully this is a positive so our young people who are fans understand there are certain things in our society that are unacceptable. It doesn't matter what you do for a living or who you are, you've got to follow those rules and laws. I think we should feel good around here that our local law enforcement has taken steps to curtail and get people who drink and drive off the road."

"We have development programs and training programs," Houston Texans owner Robert McNair said at an NFL owners' meeting ten days ago in the Dallas area. "But, you see, the thing that's difficult is when a person goes from a position of being broke to being . . . affluent, all of a sudden their life changes. And you don't know how that person is going to change once they go through that process. Some of them handle it very well. Some of them have difficulty with it."

For all the good it has done, according to The Washington Post reported NFL franchises conduct background checks on college players before they consider drafting anyone.

"The players come to us from college sometimes with previous problems or a tendency toward problems," Kansas City Chiefs President Carl Peterson said. "You try to make good decisions on players and their off-the-field habits or problems. All of us, I think, want to try to give anyone a second chance if we feel they're deserving. I think all of us also know that if it is a continuing pattern or whatever, you only get so many chances in the NFL. You've got to move on. If you get to the point where . . . it's a habitual thing or a repetitive thing, then you have to make a decision and say, 'Is this really worth it?' "

The San Diego Chargers another team with strong Super Bowl potential has almost rivaled the Bengals in relationship to members of their team running afoul of the legal system. The Chargers have been involved in everything from an alleged money scheme where the players sent large sums of money to China for steroids, safety Terrence Kiel, arrested by Drug Enforcement Administration agents at the team's practice facility in September on charges of transporting and possessing a controlled substance. And linebacker Steve Foley was shot and wounded by an off-duty police officer in an incident in which Foley was charged with drunken driving.

While Foley is sitting out the season, the Chargers at 11-2 have clinched the AFC’s western division title and likely the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC will go through San Diego. For a franchise trying to create good will to leverage taxpayers to fund the building of a new stadium for the team, the franchises first Super Bowl is what management needs. Just how concerned are Chargers management when it comes to deciding between winning on Sunday and dealing with the off-field antics of their players?

"Absolutely it's a reflection of the players [and a] reflection on the organization," Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith said. "I take it personally. . . . Everybody's talking about what's basically a handful [of players]. But if you've got one or a handful, it's still a problem. It's embarrassing and you've got to deal with it."

Chicago Bears Terry "Tank" Johnson the teams’ starting defensive tackle had a bad week even by NFL standards. Thursday, Johnson was arrested at his Chicago home and charged with misdemeanor weapons charges. It was the third time Johnson had been arrested in the last 18 months.

Hours after his arrest Bears general manager Jerry Angelo reportedly warned Johnson he was down to his final chance with the Bears. Early Friday morning Johnson’s bodyguard William Posey was murdered in a Chicago nightclub. Johnson was present at the shooting. Johnson did not play Sunday in the Bears 34-31 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the win the Bears moved to 12-2 on the season, and clinched home field advantage through the NFC title game. The road to the Super Bowl goes through Chicago for the NFC spot in Super Bowl XLI.

What next for the Bears and Johnson? Literally hours after being told he was down to his last chance to remain a Chicago Bear would general manager Jerry Angelo follow through on his threat to cut the teams ties with their starting defensive tackle, a key member of the Bears defense? Would the Bears really consider jeopardizing their chances to win a Super Bowl because a player had behaved badly?

"We have talked to Tank," Angelo said Friday according to The Chicago Tribune. "We talk to all of our players … and we spend an inordinate amount of time educating our players on all matters outside of football. It is something we did discuss with Tank."

Angelo acknowledged that "each situation is a little bit different and we look at each situation," but he added, "At some point, a player has to be held accountable for his actions."

Johnson is living a scene from the short-lived ESPN series Playmakers. One episode of Playmakers featured the teams’ star rookie running back involved in a shooting with friends he had well before he was a college or NFL star at a nightclub. The fictional character is asked to decide between telling the truth or standing by his ‘boys from the hood’. The player lies to the police believing the bonds he has with his lifelong friends are more important than telling the truth.

"I would never disassociate myself from a friend, good or bad," Bears cornerback Ricky Manning Jr., told The Chicago Tribune who was involved in an incident last April that resulted in felony assault charges against Manning and some friends he might have thought better of hanging out with.

"I just wouldn't turn my back on a friend regardless. But the difference is, if they are any kind of friend, they know what I can and can't do. I'm not going to go around acting crazy for the most part. But I definitely wouldn't disassociate myself from them."

The NFL once advised Bears wide receiver Curtis Conway according to The Chicago Tribune report to not return to the Los Angeles neighborhood he grew up in, reminding him he didn’t grow up in the best part of town.

"These guys are your friends and you try your best to still be cordial and stay away from what they do, but everybody is looking for something," Conway said. "More than anything, that's the pressure. Because a guy is [saying] like, 'Come on over and watch the game, have a bite to eat.' And you're sitting there knowing he might have something on him, but then that's your boy. You've been in that house a thousand times.

"After [many] years, I've thought of so many excuses they kind of realize where I stand. And then at some point you just have to tell them, 'Man, I can't get caught up in what's going on.' Some of them understand, some of them don't."

The great irony in regard to Playmakers, which remains a defining moment in the evolution of ESPN (both positive and negative), was the decision ESPN made to cancel the series after being pressured by the National Football League.

Playmakers portrayed the NFL for what it remains, a place where regardless of how you behave Monday to Saturday if you can stand and deliver on Sunday, you’ll get to play on Sunday and earn millions of dollars. The absurdity of Playmakers – the NFL did whatever they had to do to have a fictional drama about an NFL team cancelled, but chooses to take a blind eye to the real life actions of some of its players. The NFL, its Playmakers the series coming to life, except as long as you can win on Sunday, you won’t be cancelled.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: The Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post

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