Thursday, January 17, 2008

Randy Moss – an athlete once again guilty until proven innocent

The classic 1933 Novel “Lost Horizon” written by James Hilton tells the story of Hugh Conway, a veteran member of the British diplomatic service who finds inner peace, love, and a sense of purpose in Shangri-La. At the end of the novel (made into two movies and one of the plots for the hit ABC series “Lost”) Conway who has found peace and the contemplative scholarly life that he has always sought, is forced out of the magical valley he has found. Conway is told once he leaves the valley he’ll never be able to return – he loses what he has sought his entire life, a last inner peace. When Randy Moss was traded from the Oakland Raiders to the New England Patriots for a fourth round draft pick before the start of the current NFL season, he must have believed after contentious stops with the Minnesota Vikings and the Oakland Raiders that he had found his own football version of Shangri-La.

A troubled soul both on and off the football field, Moss has thrived in New England where the Patriots are set for the AFC Championship Game Sunday. Moss set a single season NFL record teaming with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady catching 23 touchdown passes. In the locker room Moss has proven whatever issues he faced in Minnesota and Oakland haven’t been a problem with the Patriots. Selected as an NFL All-Pro for the fist time in his career, the ‘other’ Randy Moss had to deal with his life outside the peace and tranquility of Shangri-La Wednesday after allegations surfaced that a Fort Lauderdale woman who Moss acknowledged he has known for 11 years, obtained a temporary restraining order in the Broward County Court (Fort Lauderdale) against the Patriots wide receiver on Monday. In her petition, Washington alleged Moss caused her serious injury in the Jan. 6 incident (the team’s bye-week) and denied her medical attention.

"It's unfair to athletes if a person makes a false claim," said Moss, standing in front of his locker at Gillette Stadium. "You know, there is nothing we can do. The only thing we can do is either pay up or sit back and listen to what's been said or what's being written. I can honestly say . . . for someone to make a false claim about me, I'm kind of furious.

"My situation is where I felt that I did nothing wrong. It was an accident. Whatever happened, it was an accident. I wish I could sit here and tell you all what happened. But there is a lawsuit or whatever coming against me; I can't really explain or tell you all what is going on."

As is so often the case with those who live their lives in the public light – whatever sins they’ve committed come back to haunt them whenever “allegations” arise, whether those “allegations” have any basis in truth whatsoever. However, in all fairness, Randy Moss has been anything but a choirboy before his arrival in Shangri-La.

Moss's dream was to play for Notre Dame, but he also considered going to Ohio State, where his half-brother, Eric, had played offensive tackle. According to former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz, Moss was "the greatest high school athlete I had ever seen — a bigger Deion Sanders."

After originally signing a letter of intent to play college football with Notre Dame in 1995, Moss took part in a racially-charged fight at his high school that left one person hospitalized. He entered a plea of guilty to battery, and received probation along with a 30-day suspended jail sentence. Notre Dame subsequently revoked his scholarship, but this did not stop another high-profile college football program from giving him a chance. Notre Dame officials suggested he attend Florida State due to the reputation of its coach, Bobby Bowden, for handling troubled players. However, because of his signed letter of intent at Notre Dame, the NCAA considered him a transfer student, which made him ineligible to play for the Seminoles in the 1995 football season. He was red-shirted in his freshman season.[4] While at Florida State, Moss ran a 4.25 40-yard dash, with only Deion Sanders being faster (4.23).

In 1996, while serving his 30-day jail sentence in a work-release program from 1995, Moss tested positive for smoking marijuana, thus violating his probation, and was let go by Florida State. He served an additional 60 days in jail for the probation violation.

Ultimately, Moss transferred to Marshall University, about an hour's drive from his home. Because Marshall was then a Division I-AA school, NCAA rules allowed him to transfer there without losing any further eligibility. In 1996, he set the NCAA Division I-AA records for most games with a touchdown catch in a season (14), most consecutive games with a touchdown catch (13), most touchdown passes caught by a freshman in a season (29), and most receiving yards gained by a freshman in a season (1709 on 78 catches), a record which still stands. Moss was also the leading kickoff returner in Division I-AA on the season, with 484 total yards and a 34.6 yard average. Marshall went undefeated and won the Division I-AA title in its last season before moving to Division I-A.

In the 1997 season, Marshall's first in Division I-A, Moss and current New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington were the centerpiece of an explosive offense that led the Thundering Herd to the Mid-American Conference title. Moss caught 25 touchdown passes that season, at the time a Division I-A record, and was a first-team All-American. For the season, he had 96 receptions for 1820 yards, and 26 touchdowns. He won the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the nation's leading wide receiver, and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy (finishing fourth in the balloting, behind Ryan Leaf, Peyton Manning, and Charles Woodson, who won the award).

Moss left Marshall with 168 receptions for 3,467 yards and a school record 53 touchdowns.

During the 1998 NFL Draft, Moss, who was projected as a high first-round pick, was taken by the Minnesota Vikings with the 21st overall pick after a number of NFL clubs-- even those in need of a WR-- were concerned with Moss' well-documented legal problems.

In 1998, Moss helped the Vikings to become the number one ranked offense that season while they set a record for total points by a team. They finished with a 15-1 winning record and were poised to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. However, the Atlanta Falcons stunned the Vikings by winning the NFC Championship Game 30-27 in overtime. At the end of the 1998 regular season, Moss was named a Pro Bowl starter and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year for his rookie record 17 touchdown receptions and the third highest receiving yardage (1,313) total of 1998.

In 1999, Moss had another impressive season, catching 80 passes for 1,413 yards and 11 touchdowns. He went on to record 5 receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown in the Vikings 27-10 NFC wildcard playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys. Minnesota lost in the divisional round to the St. Louis Rams 49-37, despite Moss catching 9 passes for 188 yards and 2 touchdowns. Moss was fined $40,000, which was later reduced to $25,000, during that game due to squirting an NFL referee with a water bottle. There was a stipulation that he would have to pay the difference in addition to any other fine if he had another run-in with the league.

Moss's fortunes took a better turn on the football field during the 2003 regular season, where he became the second wide receiver in history (behind Jerry Rice in 1995) to play more than 12 games (he played 16) while averaging over 100 yards and one touchdown per contest. He finished with 111 receptions for 1,632 yards and 17 touchdowns. All three of the numbers either tied or became a new personal best.

Randy Moss made the Pro Bowl 5 times in his 7-year career with the Minnesota Vikings (1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, and 2003).

Two years with the Raiders and a 2007 draft day trade from the Raiders to the Patriots one of the most gifted receivers in NFL history had arrived not only on the doorstep of football’s premier franchise but at his last chance for football and personal redemption. As great as Moss had been on the field – his off field antics painted the picture of a troubled soul.

In 1997, Randy Moss was quoted, in a Sports Illustrated article as saying the 1970 Marshall plane crash "was a tragedy, but it really wasn't nothing big." Moss claimed that the quote was taken out of context.

On September 24, 2002 in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, Moss was driving and was preparing to make an illegal turn. A traffic control officer, noticing what he was about to do, stood in front of his car, ordering him to stop. Eyewitness accounts of the event differ at this point, but Moss didn't comply with the officer's order, and she was bumped by his vehicle and fell to the ground. Moss was arrested, and a search of his vehicle revealed a small amount of marijuana. Initially charged with Suspicion of Assault with a Deadly Weapon which is a felony and a misdemeanor marijuana possession, Moss pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor traffic violation, and was ordered to pay a $1,200 fine and perform 40 hours of community service.

During the last game of the 2004 regular season against the Washington Redskins and with two seconds remaining on the game clock, Moss walked off the field and into the locker room; critics criticized Moss for quitting on his team. Moss stated afterward that he didn’t think Minnesota, who ended up losing 18-21 to Washington, would recover the onside kick.

On January 9, 2005, the Minnesota Vikings traveled to Green Bay to take on the heavily favored division rival Green Bay Packers, in an NFC wildcard playoff game. Moss was effective, finishing the game with 4 catches for 70 yards and 2 touchdowns in the 31-17 win. After the second score, Moss trotted to the end zone goalpost. Facing away from the crowd, he feigned pulling down his pants, and pretended to moon the Green Bay fans. TV announcer Joe Buck, who was calling the game, was incensed at the mooning, calling it "a disgusting act" on-air. Days later, the NFL fined him $10,000, finding it unsportsmanlike and offensive during the playoffs. However, Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy, the former Vikings defensive coordinator, explained Moss' action by pointing out that Green Bay Packers fans are infamous for actually mooning the buses of departing opponents, unlike Moss' fully-clothed imitation. However, he was fined for the incident.

In August 2005, during an interview with Bryant Gumbel on HBO’s Real Sports, Moss admitted that he has smoked marijuana during his NFL career "every blue moon

Moss’s idealistic Shangri-La like life in New England was shattered Wednesday when reports initially surfacing in Orlando created a media fire-storm in New England. Happening just days before the Patriots are set to meet the San Diego Chargers at Boston’s Gillette Stadium in the AFC title game – Moss held an impromptu news conference in the Patriots locker room following the teams practice. The unproven allegations Moss is facing led EVERY, that’s EVERY New England televised newscast Wednesday evening. The regular Patriots report from Gillette Stadium led off the regular scheduled sportscast, but Randy Moss was the flavor of the day in New England.

"It's something I've been battling for the last couple days, threats of going public if I didn't pay X amount of dollars. Before people rush quick to judgment, I think you need to find out the facts about really what is really going on. This young lady, by no means, is hurt. I didn't hurt her.

"I think that, what I heard, I really don't know the whole story, of what is being said. All I know is supposedly I -- battery -- whatever it may be, that I physically hurt a woman. Well, I want to make something clear. In my whole entire life of living, 30 years, I have never put my hand on one woman, physically or in an angry manner. This battery they're talking about, I guess from a legal standpoint, there has to be something said. Like I said, I don't really know all the facts. I don't know what's going on as far as everything that has been alleged.

"All I know is that it's a friend of mine, a young lady, it was an accident where she hurt herself, to where they called me, called my attorneys, trying to get X amount of dollars out of me, and if 'we don't get X amount of dollars' they were going to go to the press before this game.

"Basically what I'm saying, I'm actually going to hold off for questions. I just really wanted to get out there to the people that I am aware of what is going on. I don't really want people to rush quick to judgment [without] knowing the facts. My teammates don't have anything to do with this. They don't know anything. I think it was just brought to their attention. If you could all just leave them out of it, because they don't know anything that's going on. I don't really know the whole situation of what's going on, just bits and pieces. It definitely was not my intentions of doing anything like this, with this battery with the woman. That's really not my makeup, that's not me, I've never been in that situation where I've had to put my hands on any woman, any lady.

"Like I said, man, before you rush quick to judgment, find out all the facts before you start criticizing me or judging me."

While it would be unfair to even consider comparing Adam Pacman Jones to Randy Moss, earlier Wednesday, Jones who was suspended for the entire 2007 NFL season for his deviant off-field behavior saw a woman who earlier this week reportedly filed chargers against Jones for hitting her had those allegations against Jones withdrawn. As is the case all too often with a professional athlete with a troubled past the allegations against Jones were front and center. Wednesday’s news that the chargers had no basis whatsoever was reported as an afterthought by the media.

Whenever a member of the Patriots is linked to off-field issues the media loves to recall how longtime Patriots owner Robert Kraft handled the Patriots selection of Christen Peter in the fifth round of the 1996 NFL draft.

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? SportsBusinessNews.com spoke with John F. Murray, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical and Sport
Performance Psychologist in Palm Beach, Florida early in 2007 regarding professional athletes and their sense of entitlement.

“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.

Late Thursday afternoon the attorney representing Rachelle Washington, who filed a temporary restraining order against Randy Moss, released a statement:

"For the past 11 years, Ms. Washington has cared deeply for Mr. Moss and has been there for him throughout all of his trials and tribulations. However, she refuses to be further disrespected by him. It has never been her intention to hurt Mr. Moss in any way. However, she has suffered mental and physical harm as a result of his actions. She simply wants him to take responsibility for what he has done. As a battery victim, she has shown great strength throughout this entire ordeal.

"Ms. Washington has been unfairly characterized as someone simply seeking financial gain. In fact, it was Mr. Moss' representatives who first contacted our office to offer a "six figure" settlement with hopes of not having this incident become public record.

"We have heard Mr. Moss' statement regarding the incident. He has acknowledged that he was at Ms. Washington's Florida residence and that he was "guilty" of an "accident" which occurred. However, Mr. Moss fails to mention how his reckless and degrading conduct rendered Ms. Washington unable to drive her vehicle to seek medical attention. As the evidence will show, there is serious doubt that Mr. Moss is capable of recalling with clarity the exact details of what transpired that evening. As Mr. Moss has previously stated, "Do your homework and check his resume.

"We look forward to presenting all of the evidence at the court hearing on January 28, 2008."

Minneapolis attorney Joe Friedberg, who has provided legal counsel to Moss in the past, told The Boston Globe Wednesday the player's agent, Tim DiPiero, told Friedberg that the lawyer representing Washington asked Moss for $500,000, or her allegations would be made public.

"The whole thing is outrageous," said Friedberg, who is obtaining legal representation in Florida for Moss.

Friedberg also made it clear to The Boston Globe; Moss does not have to appear at the hearing. "A lawyer will appear for Randy and agree that he doesn't want to come within 500 feet of her and probably get a reciprocal order that she can't contact him," he said. "If she sues him later, then so be it. But there certainly is never going to be any criminal charges arising out of this."

As is so often the case in the media’s eyes, Randy Moss is guilty – until he proves himself innocent. Despite the fact that he has proven to be nothing but an exemplary man on the field for the Patriots, in the teams locker room and off the field, the sins of his past came back to haunt Randy Moss Wednesday just as he is poised to reach football’s holy shrine – Super Bowl XLII, and unless the Patriots team bus gets lost on their way to Gillette Stadium Sunday or University of Phoenix Stadium on February 3, Moss is destined to be a part of the second team in National Football League history to go undefeated during an entire NFL season. The 2007 Patriots are the ‘stuff’ that football dreams are made of, and unproven allegations against a key member of that team should in no way take away from the team or Randy Moss’ accomplishments.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: Wikipedia and The Boston Globe

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