Monday, February 26, 2007

Pacman Jones, the sorry state of entitlement among NFL players

When are the Tennessee Titans going to say enough is enough? When are the Tennessee Titans going to send a message to Adam "Pacman" Bernard Jones, your behavior off the football field represents a clear and present danger to the future of our football team and to our organization? A simple definition of “deviant behavior” describes exactly what Pacman off field antics are all about – a person would be considered to be acting deviant in society if they are violating what the significant social norm in that particular culture is.

After his junior year at West Virginia, he opted to forego his senior year and declare for the NFL Draft. He was the first defensive player drafted, taken 6th overall by the Tennessee Titans. He then held out in a contract dispute, missing most of training camp.

During his rookie season he had a total of 44 tackles, 10 pass deflections, but no interceptions. He totaled 1,399 return yards and 1 TD.

At the end of his sophomore season in the NFL, Jones totals 62 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 12 deflected passes, 4 interceptions, 130 return yards, 1 interception touchdown, 440 punt return yards and 3 punt return touchdowns. His 12.9 yards per punt return average led the NFL, edging out Chicago's Devin Hester by .1 of a yard. His 26.1 yards per kick return average ranked him 7th in the league. Pacman also caught two passes on offense for 31 yards and rushed twice for 8 yards. His best performance came against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 15; Jones had an 83-yard interception returned for a score, a 70-yard kick return, and broke up a touchdown pass to Matt Jones to save the game.

Even with constant off the field incidents, he has emerged as one of the NFL's elite playmakers. He is an explosive kick returner, as well as good cover corner. He, in certain packages, also plays offense.

His success on the field is a striking contrast to what has gone on off the football field, the latest incident taking place last weekend at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas. The Tennessean offered this timeline of Jones’ incredible series of run-ins with the legal system:

Strip club incident

Where: Atlanta

When: April 2005

What: Jones' name appeared on the police incident report after a fight broke out in a strip club. The female involved said she had no plans to pursue the case and it was dismissed.

Comments: "Other than being visible at the place, that is the extent of the story," said Michael Huyghue, Jones' agent. "Unfortunately you can never just be in places where anything can happen, and that is a lesson you learn, even if you are completely not involved."

Titans reaction: Team officials said they believed Jones did nothing wrong.

Hotel incident

Where: Nashville

When: June 2005

What: Security officials at Regal Maxwell House Hotel had trouble getting two of Jones' friends to clear their room after checkout time. Police arrived, smelled marijuana and found some on a tabletop. Jones was in the room, but one of his friends took full responsibility for the evidence.

Titans reaction: No comment

Nightclub arrest

Where: Nashville

When: July 2005

What: Jones was arrested on two counts of misdemeanor assault and a felony count of vandalism after a fight at a Nashville nightclub. Charges were dismissed less than a year later.

Titans reaction: "Unfortunately we realize that some young players go through a maturing process to become professionals that includes decision-making, choosing friends, appropriate behavior, etc.," the team said in a statement. "Jones has not finished that maturing process, despite team and league efforts."

Vehicle confiscation

Where: Nashville

When: April 2006

What: Metro Police said a vehicle registered to Jones was involved in a drug trafficking ring. "Pac Man" was embroidered on the leather seats of a 2004 Cadillac XLR which was confiscated from a friend of Jones. Jones later bought the car back at an auction.

Comments: "Clearly there is some connection between Mr. Jones and one of the arrested individuals," Davidson County District Attorney Torry Johnson said. "But I want to emphasize he has not been charged."

Titans reaction: No comment

Shots fired

Where: Nashville

When: April 2006

What: Jones was at the scene where gunshots were fired following an altercation at a Nashville gas station at 1:50 a.m. Police questioned Jones but labeled him only as a witness. The incident occurred just three days after the vehicle confiscation.

Comments: "My name has been falsely dragged into these matters that are completely unrelated to me," Jones said.

Titans reaction: Coach Jeff Fisher met with Jones the next day, but declined to comment.

Nightclub arrest

Where: Murfreesboro

When: August 2006

What: Jones was arrested and charged with public drunkenness and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors, for an incident at Sweetwater Saloon. With six months of good behavior the charges will be dropped, a judge ruled last month.

Comments: "An innocent bystander," Jones said.

Titans reaction: No comment

Spitting incident

Where: Nashville

When: October 2006

What: Jones was issued a citation for misdemeanor assault after being accused of spitting in the face of a Tennessee State student following a verbal exchange at a downtown nightclub. The charge was dismissed in general sessions court earlier this month.

Comments: "If I'm going to go out, I'm going to have to be at a little private spot,'' Jones said. "Maybe I'll chill out at a jazz bar or something with some older folks."

Titans reaction: No comment

Triple shooting

Where: Las Vegas

When: Monday morning

What: Jones has been questioned by Las Vegas police after he was at the scene of a triple shooting. According to Jones' attorney, the cornerback is not a suspect in the case.

Comments: "(Pacman Jones) told me, 'Man, I am not a suspect and didn't have anything to do with this,' " attorney Worrick Robinson said.

Titans reaction: No comment

The Titians have made it clear, Jones days are numbered with the Titans, at least that’s what they’re offering publicly. Mike Reinfeldt, the team's new general manager, was asked at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis about Jones' status after reports of the cornerback's involvement in the mayhem. He replied: "I would assume there is that potential."

In the last decade few NFL teams have taken a tough line relating to the off-field actions of players, with one notable exception – Christian Peter and the New England Patriots.

Don Yaeger, in his book 'Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL,' published in 1998 claimed that 21% of the players in the National Football League have been charged with one or more serious crimes. Peter became the ‘poster-boy’ for Yaeger’s insightful book.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft took a stand against employing players with criminal records. In the fifth round of the 1996 NFL draft, the Patriots picked Nebraska defensive lineman Christian Peter, who had been arrested eight times (and convicted four times) during college for a variety of offenses, including the assault of a former Miss Nebraska and the rape of another woman. When Peter's past came to light (it was Kraft’s wife who alerted her husband), Kraft cut the player before he was even offered a contract. "We concluded this behavior is incompatible with our organization's standards of acceptable conduct" said Kraft. While he received numerous letters of support from high school and college coaches, he was not praised by the NFL. Peter’s had a seven-year NFL career.

If Robert Kraft’s stand against Peter meant nothing after Peter ‘enjoyed’ the benefits (financial and personal) of being an NFL players, is there any explanation for why NFL owners allow players whose off-field behavior is out of the boundaries of the law? spoke with John F. Murray, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical and Sport
Performance Psychologist in Palm Beach, Florida.

“I think all owners would like to have a totally clean image and completely law abiding players. It only helps their franchise in their own community, helps the image of the NFL which they have an obvious stake in and ultimately helps their team perform better with fewer distractions. The problem is that there is also a great temptation to take a player who might not have the halo over his head if he can bring immediate improvement to the team, and there is competition for these on-field talents. Another problem I believe is that owners could invest more wisely in player evaluations. I have seen some of the evaluations conducted in the NFL, and while they are thorough in many areas, one area that appears to be still lacking is the solid evaluation of mental skills and psychological factors, and this is an area that presents a huge upside in talent evaluation in the future. There are so few legitimate sport psychologists, but they need to be more involved in assessment,” Murray told SBN.

The question that begs to asked, do owners care more about winning than they do the off-field actions of their players? Does it only matter what happens on the field?

“It is hard to make that kind of blanket statement, as owners are all so very different. I'm sure some care more than others. But I think it is also fair to say that in any business winning is the goal and owners are not running day care centers, they are trying to win, so this is where the "fine line" or "grey area" becomes a factor. I like to think that improved off-field behavior can lead to winning too. You can and need to train your players to be smart and aggressive warriors on the field who know how to tone it down off the field, or the whole system breaks down? “Murray said to SBN.

Friday, NFL Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw announced after a meeting Thursday, the NFLPA’s 12-player Conduct Advisory Committee unanimously agreed it is time for the NFL to institute sanctions against players who not only break the law but according to various media reports run afoul of the law (Pacman Jones falls into that category).

According to a report in the USA Today: among the members of the panel who recommended that more stringent punishment for conduct violations be strongly considered by the union: 15-year veteran defensive back Vincent, Colts Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday, Panthers Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith, Cowboys Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten, Falcons Pro Bowl corner DeAngelo Hall, Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seahawks safety Ken Hamlin, Broncos cornerback Dominique Foxworth, Saints tight end Ernie Conwell, Dolphins Defense lineman Kevin Carter and Titans running back LenDale White .

"The common denominator was these guys really care," Upshaw said before addressing a meeting of player agents early Friday. "They care about the game.

"They care about the 10% that we're all painting with the same brush. That 90% are doing the right thing and 10% are not.

"Guys are moving in the direction that we need to have penalties similar to the drug (substance abuse policy) penalties. At some point, you're out. You can't just continue to keep violating policies. You can't be in the wrong place, three or four times.

"One time. Two times maybe. But three or four times in the wrong place at the wrong time, they didn't like that."

Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell were interested observers at the Thursday’s meeting. Goodell who had a great deal to say about the deviant behavior of NFL players during his recent “State of the Sport” during the lead-up to Super Bowl XLI hinted after Thursday’s meeting he’s interested in holding both the players and the owners accountable for the off-field actions of NFL players.

At Super Bowl Goodell was asked if there is anything that the league can do to curtail the off-field incidents that have plagued it this year, especially some teams? And I wonder if the league at any point will hold individual clubs accountable for the misbehavior of some of their players?

“Well, we have to do something about it. I think it's an incredibly important issue. One incident is too many, in my book. I think we need to reevaluate all of our programs. We have a tremendous number of programs that I think have been quite successful to help our players. But I think we've got to do more. We are going to start that process, one, by evaluating our policies; but two, Gene and I are going to put together a group of players we're going to meet with in the next several weeks to give us their perspective on what's really happening and what are the issues, so we can try to learn something first.

“But I think our focus has to be on reevaluating our policies, make sure we educate our players to what's out there. We continually tell our players and our coaches that we are raised to a higher standard in the NFL and we have to exceed that standard. I firmly believe that and I think Gene does, also.

“We have to make sure our players are more accountable, but I think also our clubs have to be more accountable and we will be reevaluating our position to see if there are ways we should make our clubs more accountable in the offseason” Goodell said.

Accountably aside – what about the image of the NFL and the terrible toll being done to the decades the NFL has spent crafting that image. AT the end of the day, the damage should be of greatest concern to Goodell and company.

“I see it differently. I don't see it in droves. I think there are very few. But a few is too many in my book. I think when you have the outstanding athletes that we have, and we have two of them here today, that won the Walter Payton Award, Drew Brees and LT (LaDainian Tomlinson). These are two of the finest people I know. Not just football players, but outstanding people.

“We're proud of our players. We recognize that at times some of our players don't do what we would hope they do. When that happens we will be very aggressive in dealing with that and we have stepped up our discipline this year, and I intend to continue to do that.”

Unfortunately in an era of instant media visa-vie the Internet, far too much attention is spent on the behavior of Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson are far too many NFL’ers than do the good deeds of men like Drew Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson. Is the media at fault for focusing so much coverage on the off-field behavior of NFL players?

“I don't think the media makes enough of the problems. In a normal job you get fired for severe and embarrassing problems. It should not be any different here. Players need to know the standards long in advance and adhere to them or risk losing what they have worked for all their lives. This helps them too. Too little discipline is rarely the answer,” John F. Murray, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical and Sport Performance Psychologist in Palm Beach, Florida offered SBN.

And what message is the NFL sending out about its players. “A terrible message indeed. The NFL is one of the most successful businesses in history. It would be wise to invest seriously in cleaning up its image, taking care of the players and reducing tragedy,” Murray offered.

The NFL is business that generates more than $6 billion annually, $3.75 billion yearly in television revenues alone. “The NFL is very powerful and I think they will be around for a long time. It is a wonderful sport. But to allow the behavioral problems to escalate will eventually come back to haunt them. Rather than let the problems bring them down, I think they are in a great position to take action to not only help the players and the image, but in doing so to help society clean up its act too. What we are seeing in sport is often just a microcosm of our culture and society.” Murray said to SBN.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: The Tennessean

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