Koren Robinson: Prodigal Son?

"The larger issue is, of course, that Robinson must somehow find a way to turn his life around. It can only be hoped that this suspension will be remembered as the galvanizing moment that prevented him from becoming yet another cautionary tale."

On Monday, the NFL denied Seahawks wide receiver Koren Robinson’s appeal of a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Pursuant to NFL rules, the length of the suspension reflects a third offense. Robinson will begin serving the suspension (without pay) by missing the Seahawks’ upcoming home game against the Buffalo Bills, as well as the December 6th Monday night game against the Cowboys at Qwest Field. He will also miss road trips to Minnesota and the New York Jets. He is eligible to return for a Dec. 26 home game against Arizona.

NFL career receiving leader Jerry Rice, who started and had three receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's 24-17 win over Miami, will take over at Robinson's position.

``You just have to keep going,'' Rice said. ``Koren is a great receiver. We wish we had him coming back this week. We've got to have all the guys fill in and somehow keep this ship afloat.''

When asked about his ability to perhaps impart some of his own leadership onto Robinson, Rice sounded determined to help. “I’m constantly in his ear. We talk and we’re good friends. That's basically all you can do, and just hope this guy realizes this is an opportunity of a lifetime for him. You can’t forget it, you’ve got to go out and you’ve got go out and play and take pride in what you do. Hopefully he can overcome this and come back and be the player that he can be. I have never seen a guy with so much size and so much speed and so much ability. I’m just going to keep working with him and, hopefully, it rubs off on him.”

Head coach Mike Holmgren was obviously disappointed, but he was encouraged that Robinson will be able to spend time at team facilities. In the past, suspended players were not allowed to do so – something that Holmgren, a member of the NFL’s Competition Committee, has never understood. Due to a rule that was implemented this spring, Robinson will have access to the weight room as well as the club's counseling and personnel services. “I didn’t understand if a guy gets jammed up and why then you couldn’t have any contact with him”, Holmgren remarked during his Monday press conference. “I think the football environment, in many cases, is the healthiest environment for the player. We talked about it. I talked to Harold Henderson, I talked to Gene Upshaw and the commissioner about it last spring; just can we get some dialogue, because it was a collectively bargained issue. Can we get some dialogue on how we treat those young guys. I'm pleased. Believe me, I didn’t make a bunch of posters or anything, but I’m glad we can do it this way. I’m glad we can keep him around.”

When asked if Robinson was on shaky ground with his coach, Holmgren talked about what he perceives as his larger responsibility. “I love the guy. I guess I’ve got a weakness for him or something. This is going to sound a little corny, I realize, but even at the professional level my first obligation, obviously, is to coach the football team, that goes without saying. But then I don’t think it ends there. I think as coaches we can still have a positive impact on our players off the field as well, I hope we can. As long as a player is a Seattle Seahawk, I’m going to do my best to keep encouraging them to be good citizens off the field and those types of things. I think that’s part of my job.”

However, Holmgren could not hide his exasperation at the events that led to this ruling. “It’s very disappointing to see potential, I guess I see wonderful potential lost like that”, Holmgren remarked. “Is he going to rebound off this? Yes. Are other players? Certainly. But this is a missed time. Now, you just want the lights to go on for some of these young guys, have them understand how fortunate they are to be doing what they’re doing. I’m hopeful that will be the case in this instance.”

His coach’s optimism notwithstanding, Robinson’s NFL career has been a strange kaleidoscope of dropped passes, missed meetings, internal suspensions (Rice started against Miami because Robinson was benched for breaking undisclosed team rules), and virtually unlimited (and unrealized) potential.

But with the Seahawks at 6-4 in the 2004 season and fighting for respectability and consistency, Robinson has been the odd man out. He leads the NFL in dropped passes with 10, and his overall season has been a disappointment statistically. He has caught only 31 passes for 495 yards with two touchdowns.

Unfortunately, the only area of complete consistency in Robinson’s career has been his penchant for trouble Robinson was suspended for a game at Arizona last season after missing a team meeting (Holmgren has joked in the past that he installed digital clocks throughout the building at Seahawks headquarters to help Robinson report to meetings on time). In February 2003, he was arrested outside a bar in Raleigh, N.C., for "failure to disperse".

In an October 19th article for the Tacoma News Tribune, Seahawks beat writer Mike Sando broke the news that a search of public records revealed 21 cases implicating Robinson for various legal infractions, including four allegations of negligent driving since 2003. According to Sando and co-reporter Sean Robinson, the records showed repeated failures to appear in court, cases going to collection and lawyers taking care of matters at the last minute.

It is not known whether any of the alleged offenses might have qualified Robinson for entry in the NFL’s substance-abuse program. As Sando reported, negligent driving covers a variety of offenses, from endangering other motorists to exhibiting the effects of alcohol or drugs. What the records did show was that a negligent driving conviction from April 2003 stemmed from a more serious charge of reckless driving. There were 13 other traffic-related cases, including one from April of this year in which a police officer cited Robinson for traveling 105 mph in a 60-mph zone.

While Koren Robinson plays the role of penitent and the Seahawks attempt to get their offense moving without him, the larger issue is, of course, that Robinson must somehow find a way to turn his life around. It can only be hoped this suspension will be remembered as the galvanizing moment that prevented him from becoming yet another cautionary tale.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at doug@seahawks.net.

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