No More Mr. Nice Guy

By on August 26, 2010

It all really started to hit the fan back in 2006, when the Cincinnati Bengals did their best reincarnation of the Portland Jailblazers.  Nine different players were arrested in nine months.    WR Chris Henry, one of those nine players facing charges, had already been arrested four times since December 2005.  Charlie Sheen couldn’t accomplish that if he had an all-expenses paid trip to Vegas every weekend for a year (well, maybe he could…that’s a challenge Charlie).  Fellow Bengals LB Brian Simmons said, “The perception of the team across the country is bad. It’s as if it’s going around like the plague.”  And it did seem that way.  Other NFL players started to suffer from the “plague”; players such as Adam “Pacman” Jones who found himself answering to local authorities on several occasions.  Terry “Tank” Johnson was pulled over, questioned and/or arrested on numerous occasions before the Chicago Bears had seen enough and released him. 

While the NFL was trying to keep John Walsh and America’s Most Wanted from beating down their doors, Major League Baseball was dealing with its own public relations crises.  US Senator George Mitchell was conducting an investigation that, when released, would ultimately implicate almost 100 professional baseball players in their rampant use of steroids and human growth hormones.  This only confirmed what the talking heads and wiser fans had been whispering for years—baseball has a problem and it’s going to take a major revelation for Bud Selig and the MLBPA to do something about it.

 It didn’t have to come to this Commissioner Selig.  It didn’t have to boil over to the point the US government started sticking its nose into, among many other things, the locker rooms, training facilities and laboratories MLB franchises and players used.  This got  Selig to rise from his complacency and acknowledge the issues at hand.  Don’t US Senators have larger fish to fry than whether athletes are corrupting their bodies and the games they play by using performance enhancing drugs?  Apparently Congress and I don’t see eye to eye on that point.  Inevitably, they subpoenaed baseball kings such as Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire and Rafael Palmeiro to testify as to whether or not they used steroids and other PEDs.  At the end of the day, though, all the Committee got out of those hearings was the outright denial or refusal by those whom appeared to answer the Committee’s questions about PED usage (some spoke in English, others forgot how to speak the language).

In 2008, when Roger Clemens offered to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, my first thought was, What in the hell is he doing?  Does he realize he HAS to tell the truth?!?!   You can’t just burn a fastball by these guys.  Obviously I never had much confidence in Clemens’ denial of using PEDs, so I expected him to walk in there and plea the 5th for every question.  With all of the circumstantial evidence and hearsay brought forth, I never thought he would go in front of these government officials and answer their questions.  Why would he?  He wasn’t officially charged with anything.  There was no concrete evidence that made us, the public, say “Ah ha!”  All they had was the testimony of several players and his former strength coach.  That alone would never, I repeat NEVER, hold up in a court of law.  But when Clemens walked into that room and sat down, head held high, I knew he was doomed.  The contempt he held for those who accused him and the bravado with which he spoke as the Committee questioned him, showed the world just how naive these men can be.  I don’t necessarily know that Clemens has cheated the game of baseball and neither do you.  What I do know,  the reason the 5th Amendment was written was to protect idiots from implicating themselves when under oath.   Now Roger Clemens is facing six charges of perjury and making false statements.

Maybe it was the lack of round-the-clock sports news coverage, Twitter, mobile updates and an Ed Werder or Rachel Nichols stationed outside every stadium/ arena/restaurant/strip-club in the country. Although  I don’t recall hearing stories of professional athletes opening fire outside of strip clubs, shooting themselves in the leg, sexually assaulting women in bathrooms, organizing and funding dogfighting rings and getting away with murder.  I most certainly can’t remember them doing sit-ups in the driveway while giving an interview, sitting out of camps and demanding trades, competing on reality shows, getting tasered, knocking up six women, strangling their coach and attempting to set migrant workers on fire.  The worst I can remember is Michael Irvin being repeatedly caught with crack and prostitutes, yet that didn’t prevent him from having the opportunity to win three Super Bowls and get a cushy gig on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown. 

Remember Leonard Little?  In 1998 he was arrested for drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter after crashing into and killing a woman on his way home from his 24th birthday party.  Consequently, he was convicted and served 90 days in jail, 1000 hours of community service and was suspended for half the ’99 season.  I’ve seen people get more time and harsher punishments for littering (not really folks, I’m making a point).  I have heard of individuals receiving more time for DUI conviction without incident.

Recently the MLB, NBA and NFL have instituted broader guidelines on appropriate behavior and harsher punishments for, not only criminal acts, but acts of stupidity as well.  David Stern has issued strict punishment on Gilbert Arenas, Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Latrell Spreewell.  Bud Selig has awakened from his nap in the Brewers’ luxury box to issue a few stern suspensions of those players caught with steroids in their systems.  Roger Goodell, however, has created the largest ripple in the world of sports by implementing a more stringent personal conduct policy for NFL players, coaches and personnel.  I am a Roger Goodell fan–while his new government of the NFL universe is not perfect, he has made the greatest impact on his sport by being firm and (though others may argue differently, the NFLPA) fair.  Players now know there are consequences to their actions that can have an impact on their wallets and/or future should they chose to ignore the laws of the land or society.

So now I pose this question to you….how long will we continue to head in the right direction with respect to athletes and behavioral issues?  Both the NBA and NFL collective bargaining agreements run through the end of the upcoming 2010 seasons, while MLB’s CBA expires at the end of the 2011 season.  While revenue sharing, salary cap and contract limitations will be pressing issues at the table, one thing the unions are NOT bringing major media attention to is their displeasure with the new discipline measures.  The policies will have to be re-written, revised, fought over and watered down to the point that they are essentially useless once again.  The NFL policy, in my mind, is the one that makes or breaks how the other two sports will negotiate their policies.  Pro football will be the first to have their CBA expire and thus will be bargaining earliest.  I hope Goodell brings his gloves to the table because this is a fight he has to win.

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