The real cost of the NFL's business
By Jim Litke, Associated Press
In the past few months, more than two dozen NFL players and a
sprinkling of front-office executives have been arrested for crimes
ranging from petty to deadly.
No matter how bad it looks, remember that's not a crime wave by any fair measure, let alone by league standards. Think of it instead as just the cost of doing business. Everybody in the NFL already does.
To be fair, any company with that employs 9,000 people is bound to have
some bad apples. And this year's number of arrests, give or take a few,
lines up with last year's pace.
So no one should have been surprised to awake Thursday morning to news
reports that Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was arrested on
suspicion of drunken driving in Lincoln, Neb. But because the NFL is
all about image, about "protecting the shield," as commissioner Roger
Goodell never tires of saying, Dennard's team pretended to be.
Another jersey trade-in offer may be in the works even as you read this.
"The New England Patriots are extremely disappointed to learn of
Alfonzo Dennard's arrest," a team statement said. "We take this matter
very seriously and are working to get more information on the incident."
Please. Let's not forget the bottom line is always personal
responsibility, and that Dennard climbed into his car likely knowing
that the entire league and his team in particular — former Pats tight
end Aaron Hernandez is being held on a murder charge — was already
feeling the heat.
And that he was on probation after punching a cop during a fight in the
same town a week before the 2012 draft.
But let's not forget, either — because the Patriots certainly can't —
that the reason they were able to pluck him all the way down at the
seventh round of that draft is because Dennard had several previous
scrapes on and off the field.
Once you stop to think about it, the cynicism that underpins the whole
"crime-in-the-NFL" phenomenon is almost breathtaking.
A respected agent said earlier this week that just about every time he
meets with one of the league's general managers or personnel chiefs,
the guy knows exactly how many potential troublemakers are on his
roster. There's even a code word for those players: "turds," as in "I
can't risk a chance on another turd. We've already exceeded our quota."
There's upwards of 10 on just about every squad, the agent estimates.
He said they tend to be clustered around a handful of defensive
positions where meanness and a short memory are essential, with wide
receivers being the most notable exception on the other side of the
"They want guys who say 'gimme the damn ball," and guys who can turn
around the play after they get beat and start talking trash right away
about how it won't ever happen again," he said. "Without those nasty,
selfish guys, competing on a regular basis is practically impossible."
According to the agent, who asked that his name be withheld because
he's still negotiating deals, the number of headaches a team takes on
can generally be calibrated by how desperate it is to win. Think of the
Cincinnati Bengals a few years back, or on a smaller scale, how Cowboys
owner Jerry Jones hired a bodyguard to make sure wide receiver Dez Bryant didn't find himself in any more compromising positions.
The problems in New England at the moment may spring from a different
source — hubris, or as the agent put it, "too much faith in the
'Patriot Way.'" But in every case, teams know exactly what they're
doing when they draft, trade or take a flyer on a knucklehead like
Dennard. The only thing they can truly be "extremely disappointed"
about is when one or another does something stupid or dangerous while
they were his enablers.
There were at least 17 different teams touched by the more than two
dozen arrests these past few months, and anytime a problem extends that
wide, it usually runs top to bottom as well.
As noted above, this is first and foremost about personal
responsibility. And to be fair, Goodell hasn't been shy about doling
out harsh punishment to any employee, and even harsher punishments to
the league's higher-ups. But what's clear is that his message, no
matter how many times he warns rookies to "protect the shield," is
still being greeted in too many corners of the league with little more
than a wink and a nod.
So why not just spare us the lecture?
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke
No Shortage Of Knuckleheads In NFL
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