The NFL's Unfortunate Tradition

Janay & Ray Rice

Ray Rice & Janay Rice at a May 2014 press conference/photo Rob Carr/Getty Images

The NFL's Unfortunate Tradition
| published November 21, 2014 |

By Earl Perkins
Thursday Review features editor

Our system has created, via incompetent parenting and a failing educational system, a generation of violent video game-watching, unsupervised and under-educated miscreants who place no value on anyone else's life or needs but themselves.

I've been researching this story in my mind for years, but never got around to placing it on paper. A short article admonishing the powers that be was my goal, but I'm rushing to finish before it calls for a 10-volume book series. I said we'll trot out a few players who had run-ins with the law, and maybe even build a small depth chart.

However, bad behavior from superstar football players has been swept under the rug for decades because it didn't suit the company agenda, causing the general populace to finally weigh in with a vengeance. Prefacing the following information, I'm not running a list of names and statistics because that's too boring, but I am advocating internet research to satisfy your prurient interest. Uncovering numerous vile acts by athletes should not take long.

We're just scratching the surface of unsavory acts, but the statistical percentages of big-time football players prosecuted for extreme violence versus those of other citizens is extremely troubling. The media often shine a spotlight on the tiniest accusations, but we'll never know all the circumstances surrounding many cases. Unlimited budgets for lawyers, people turning a blind eye and billions in hush money have caused inconvenient truths to disappear.

Throw in a few bad guys, those who just don't care, side effects from drug usage and morally bankrupt individuals, and we're facing tons of vile acts and a formidable depth chart. At their physical peak, we're fielding a team that would run roughshod over numerous National Football League lineups today.

At one time, it looked like Commissioner Roger Goodell might lose his job for not getting a grip on swiftly punishing former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice following a February incident concerning his then-fiance. The All-Pro running back knocked Janay Palmer unconscious in an Atlantic City, New Jersey, hotel elevator and bumped her with a dismissive foot, before dragging her lifeless body into the hallway like a sack of potatoes. She soon married him, claiming the incident was a misunderstanding and a mutual attack. Recently she excoriated the media for blowing the incident out of proportion. The following is a statement from her Instagram account:

“I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I’m mourning the death of my closest friend. But to have to accept the fact that it’s reality is a nightmare in itself. No one knows the pain that the media & unwanted options (sic) from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing.

To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass of (sic) for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific. THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is! Ravensnation we love you!”

Recent photographic evidence shows more graphic video than previously publicized. Goodell claims he knew nothing about the new video, but a law enforcement officer says an employee at NFL Headquarters received the tape five months ago, according to the Associated Press. The female executive thanked the officer for sending the 12-second tape while acknowledging receipt, saying "You're right. It's terrible." Rice received a two-game suspension for his actions, which was eventually extended to indefinite after the more graphic video surfaced on TMZ. Many people thought the commissioner knew about the tape all along and was tone-deaf concerning moral vs. financial issues. Considering the NFL's power and how billion-dollar industries are structured in this nation, I have no doubt he was clueless.

There are so many layers of bosses and different departments in large corporations that important information is constantly lost. Everybody is running scared because they know their contracts, future employment and bonuses are inextricably entwined with producing good news and glowing reports. Someone is always punished for bad news. The "celebrity gossip and entertainment site" (TMZ) shows some of the sleaziest and horrible activities that are mere snippets of people's lives, highlighting them at their most compromising and worst moments.

Goodell was forced to take a stronger stance concerning sexual assault cases, possibly banning for life anyone found guilty of a second sexual assault or domestic abuse offense. Numerous activists calling for change greeted the news with a mixture of optimism and skepticism, noting the league has an extremely strong union and players will quickly appeal for reinstatement. Ironically, Rice had been known as one of the players least likely to get caught up in this type of drama. He was very community oriented and had a fine reputation, but this event will dog him for the rest of his life.

He will surely return to the NFL, because we're discussing a powerful league with massive amounts of money at stake, and this nation has a short attention span and forgiving nature--when it comes to celebrities. Speaking of dogs, after being temporarily inconvenienced, Michael Vick returned to the league and went on with his life. And then Ray Lewis is foisted upon us as a television analyst? It's been suggested they should have changed his jersey number to 187.

But I digress. Michael Vick was a three-time Pro Bowler with a bright future, leading the Atlanta Falcons to the playoffs twice before running awry of the man. In April 2007, he was implicated in an illegal interstate dog-fighting ring, which fell under federal purview. Bad Newz Kennels had operated for five years when Vick faced felony charges for his involvement, causing him to serve 21 months in prison, followed by two months of home confinement. He was then welcomed back to the NFL with open arms, moving on to the Philadelphia Eagles before landing with the New York Jets. Now there's an outfit where he'll fit right in, and he came out saying he'll be there for Ray Rice.

Vick would only be the backup quarterback on my roster, because I choose Hall of Famer Warren Moon as starter. I'm not judging his actions, but entitlement is one of the first words that springs to mind when studying his career. Look it up on the internet.

Moon played professionally for more than two decades, most notably with Houston, Minnesota, Seattle and Kansas City. He was also a superstar in the Canadian Football League for several years before that. Despite a stellar career at the University of Washington, Moon claimed the NFL wasn't pursuing black quarterbacks at that time, so he headed north. In 1995 while playing for the Minnesota Vikings, Moon was arrested for beating his wife, Felicia, but was rapidly acquitted of all charges. She was compelled to testify under Texas state law, taking the stand on three of the trial's eight days, telling jurors she was at fault for the altercation that occurred at their Missouri City, Texas, home, according to the New York Times.

Felicia, 39, sustained scratches and bruises on her face, neck, back and leg during the struggle. She threw a candleholder at Moon and kneed him in the groin during an argument over credit cards. She claimed the wounds were the result of Moon trying to "restrain" her, which matched his testimony. Mike Elliott, assistant district attorney, claimed Felicia's testimony was inconsistent with what she told officers at her home following a frantic 911 call from the Moon's then 7-year-old son. He said, "The state's not saying Mrs. Moon is lying," just that "there's been a lot of dancing going on." She had initially claimed she feared for her life as Moon struck her about the head with an open hand and choked her until she almost lost consciousness, finally escaping from the home.

In 1994, Moon had been accused of sexually harassing a Vikings cheerleader, but that case was quickly settled out of court. His record also shows an arrest for suspicion of DUI after being stopped for speeding near Kirkland, Washington, which is a suburb of Seattle. The charges were reduced to first-degree negligent driving after Moon registered breath-alcohol levels of 0.068 and 0.067 at the police station several hours after his arrest. Moon pled guilty to negligent driving and was sentenced to 40 hours of community service, a $350 fine and drug and alcohol awareness classes.

Moon certainly didn't come from financially difficult circumstances, but when college and pro teams drag young people out of housing projects and worship them like gods, don't be so whiny when dead bodies start littering the streets. One or two are bound to fall through the cracks and eventually run afoul of the justice system.

Nobody properly vets these people until stories bring tragedy and horror to headlines, and then everybody wants to know what went wrong. Maybe they weren't punished for previous transgressions because they had talents that eluded all others on this planet, so they received a pass.

Former quarterback Ryan Leaf recently received a five-year prison sentence for violating terms of his probation stemming from a plea deal he cut with Montana authorities in 2012. Can you say felony burglary and criminal possession of a dangerous drug? Throw in Art Schlichter, Kordell Stewart (caught holding a friend's crack pipe) and Quincy Carter, and I believe we've got an incredible depth chart.

I know the tone of this article seems to be an ugly indictment of players and their actions, but I am torn when it comes to broadly condemning athletes. They've been pampered and worshiped as gods from early childhood. Given a pass from studying in school, some are thrust onto a world stage with little preparation and even less desire to conform to societal rules. Many came from difficult circumstances and dangerous neighborhoods. Others either arrived with mental health issues or with neurological or behavioral problems linked to a lifetime of head injuries and concussions.

Former new England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez evidently murdered three people, and has not been a model prisoner while incarcerated in Massachusetts. Following punishment for assaulting another prisoner recently, he was transferred closer to Bristol, where he was partially raised.

Orenthal James Simpson, who played more than a decade for the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers, will be my starter at running back. The Juice and his Electric Company lit up defenses for more than a decade before he graduated to a Nevada prison.

He may have beaten a murder rap for killing his wife and friend, but the former broadcaster and actor is currently serving a 33-year sentence for kidnapping, assault and robbery. The first player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in the NFL primarily stays to himself following a recent hunger strike, during which the Juice claimed he just wanted to die.

It's pretty bad when I have to drop Ricky Williams and Timmy Smith to backup roles behind OJ. Back in 1999 Coach Mike Ditka traded all the New Orleans Saints draft picks and two from the following year for the right to pick Williams out of the University of Texas. Little did Iron Mike know, Ricky would eventually smoke enough sacks of marijuana to lose his own job, along with Ditka's. The Washington Redskins must have seen Ditka coming, or maybe they just did their homework and knew Williams would never pan out.

Washington's Timmy Smith had a game for the ages in Super Bowl XXII at San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium in 1988. The rookie running back set a Super Bowl rushing record by gaining 204 yards and scoring two touchdown. Quarterback Doug Williams lit up Denver in an electrifying performance, and the Redskins finished off the Broncos 42-10. Smith's career really never took off after that, and he retired in 1990 as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. He was arrested for trying to sell cocaine to a Denver undercover cop in 2005. The following year he pled guilty on a charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and was sentenced to two and a half years in Federal prison.

On the defensive side of the ball, I've got Leonard Little, who played 12 years for the St. Louis Rams. He left his own birthday party in 1998, killing a mother when his vehicle crashed into her small car. His blood alcohol level was 0.19 percent, while the statutory limit in Missouri was 0.08. Little received four years of community service and probation. You would think he learned his lesson for a lifetime, but in 2003 he was charged with communicating threats and making harassing telephone calls. Something about a former girlfriend and a relationship gone bad, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Then there was 2004, when he was pulled over by the Ladue Police Department for driving 78 in a 55-mile-per-hour zone on the interstate, and was arrested for driving while intoxicated. He had red eyes, smelled of alcohol and failed three roadside sobriety tests. After admitting to police that he had been drinking alcohol, he was eventually convicted of misdemeanor speeding and acquitted of DWI. Little received two years of probation for that infraction.

The NFL was recently forced to come out strong on sexual assault, possibly banning for life anyone found guilty of a second sexual assault or domestic abuse offense. Activists who have called for change greeted the news with a mixture of optimism and skepticism, some noting the league has an extremely strong union and players will almost certainly appeal for reinstatement.

One of the gladiators I actually have major sympathy for is Justin Strzelczyk, a former standout lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Numerous concussions sustained throughout his career almost certainly culminated in a fiery car crash that killed him following a 40-mile chase from police. Strzelczyk was 36 when he passed away in June 2007. Images of magnified brain tissue removed from his body post-mortem showed early signs of brain damage usually found only in boxers with dementia or people in their 80s. At least he went out in spectacular fashion. Forty minutes after being on the business end of a hit-and-run incident, a state trooper laid down metal spikes to disable his tires. Strelczyk limped on with three good tires and a rim, after giving officers the finger and throwing a beer bottle at them. He eventually drove into oncoming traffic, hitting a tank truck carrying corrosive acid.

And who could ever forget Rae Carruth (plotting to kill his pregnant girlfriend)? If you're looking for recent names ripped from the headlines, then we must study Adrian Peterson, Ray McDonald, Marvin Harrison (strangling children and gunfights), Greg Hardy, Aldon Smith, Richie Incognito, Darren Sharper, Johnathan Dwyer, Chris Henry and Plaxico Burress.

Other favorites of mine include the legendary Hollywood Henderson, Booker Reese, Bill Romanowski, Pacman Jones, Dave Meggett, Mercury Morris, Dominic Rhodes (pupu on a popo's car), Eugene Robinson and Braylon Edwards. Then we certainly cannot forget Keith Wright (multiple life terms), Onterrio Smith (the whizzenator), Darryl Henley, Dwayne Goodrich, Eric Naposki, Sam Hurd, Nate Newton, Lawrence Phillips, Keith Wright, Stanley Wilson, Robert Rozier, Nate Newton and Nate Webster.

A few were just unseemly and others became bad people, while several were truly a menace to society. Now you see why I said you needed to do extensive research on your own. I know I left out numerous people that deserved mention, but I ran out of steam and the desire to continue digging. Maybe it's time we reconsidered our panoply of superstar athletes and how we judge their conduct.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Will Big Bucks Sway the NFL?; Earl H. Perkins; Thursday Review; September 20, 2014.