Ron Cook: NFL needs to tackle its criminal element
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Go ahead, blame Pac-Man Jones. The creep deserves it. Though it's uncertain what role, if any, he played in a triple shooting at a Las Vegas strip club last month, this much we know: The incident was the 10th in which he has been involved with police the past two years.
But what about the Tennessee Titans' responsibility?
Didn't they realize they were taking a risk on a player of Jones', ahem, character? Didn't they know about his background at West Virginia? How he faced a malicious assault charge -- later reduced to a misdemeanor -- as the result of a bar fight? Did the Titans have to draft Jones with the sixth overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft and guarantee him nearly $15 million? Do they have to keep giving him chance after chance?
Ridicule Chris Henry, if you must. The creep deserves it. He was arrested four times last year, sadly replacing quarterback Carson Palmer as the face of the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that had nine players arrested since the start of 2006.
But what about the Bengals' responsibility?
Didn't they realize they were taking a gamble with Henry? Didn't they know about his background at West Virginia? How he was suspended for half a game in his final season after making an obscene jesture to the Rutgers' fans? How later that year he was suspended for the big game against Pitt after violating team rules? How he showed up quarterback Rasheed Marshall on the field in his final game in the Gator Bowl? Did the Bengals have to take him in the third round of the 2005 draft? Do they have to keep giving him chance after chance?
Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
No, not that West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez needs to start recruiting a higher caliber of person.
That the NFL teams often are just as responsible for their players' abhorrent behavior as the players themselves.
And that the teams deserve what they get when their creeps cause trouble.
This isn't meant in any way as a defense of the players, who almost always are guilty of horrendous judgment if not criminal behavior.
Jones, a top-notch cornerback and terrific return man, and Jones, a superb wide receiver, are, by all accounts, bad people.
Jones' latest incident is something else. According to the strip club owner, Jones started a melee early Feb. 19 by throwing money on the stage, then reacting angrily when the dancers picked it up. The owner told The Nashville Tennessean that Jones threatened a security guard. He also said Jones was with the man who allegedly did the shooting that left three people injured, one paralyzed.
Jones and his attorney denied that Jones had any role in the shootings and said he didn't know the shooter. The attorney said Jones was questioned by police as a witness, not a suspect.
No matter, it has already been a tough few months for the NFL. In addition to the Jones' incident, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson was arrested for the third time in 18 months on a gun charge shortly before his bodyguard was shot and killed at a Chicago nightspot, Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was shot and killed outside a Denver club after a New Years Eve party and Super Bowl hero Dominic Rhodes of the Indianapolis Colts was arrested on a drunk-driving charge.
Yeah, the NFL's precious image has taken a beating.
But just as troubling is the way the teams react to their miscreants. Jones and Henry still are with their clubs. But it's not just the Titans and Bengals managements that too often look the other way when there are problems.
In the name of winning, of course.
The St. Louis Rams gave defensive end Leonard Little a $19 million contract extension after he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the death of a woman in a drunk-driving incident and then was arrested and acquitted on another drunk-driving charge. The Minnesota Vikings gave offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie a big contract after he was involved in the team's infamous Love Boat escapades. The Bears played Johnson in the Super Bowl last month after a judge -- presumably a Bears fan -- granted him permission to travel to Miami for the big game.
And the teams wonder why their players think they can get away with anything as long as they produce on the field?
The teams, obviously, can't save themselves.
That's why it's kind of neat that several players are stepping up. Most of the NFL players are good, solid people who are tired of being lumped in with Jones, Henry, Johnson and the others. Palmer of the Bengals, reacting to the many arrests of his teammates, has been especially outspoken, telling the Cincinnati media, "If it doesn't stop, we're not going to have any fans left and I don't blame them. It's ridiculous."
Another Bengal -- wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh -- was one of several players who discussed player conduct and possible repercussions at a meeting late last month in Indianapolis that also included Steelers owner Dan Rooney and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. A three strikes-and-you're out policy was suggested and will be examined further at the owners' meetings this month.
Admirable, if lenient, the policy needs plenty of work before it becomes official. Is a strike determined by an arrest or a conviction? And does driving with a suspended license count as much as, say, assault and battery?
The NFL teams could go along way toward eliminating these problems if they just used a little common sense.
Don't bring the troublemakers into the league in the first place or, at the very least, get rid of them the first time they act up, salary-cap implications be damned. Playing in the NFL and making the money the players do is a privilege.
Three strikes seem like too many.
One is more than enough.
First Published March 4, 2007 12:00 am