May 26, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
As thorough as the NFL is in researching the players who seek to enter their league, there appears to be just as many troubled individuals slipping through the cracks as there ever was.
Over the course of the past week, three people associated with the National Football League have been killed.
One was a murder-suicide involving a player and his girlfriend, and the other a drinking-and-driving fatality.
In a league with around 2,000 players, these numbers are way out of whack with general-population averages, and that is because the NFL populace is anything but general.
In 1998, as a birthday gift, an ex-girlfriend of mine gave me a book titled Pros and Cons, yet it was far from being a novel weighing the positives and negatives of a situation.
It was a book about professional athletes who had either been charged with felonies, been convicted of felonies, spent time incarcerated or had criminal records.
NFL days are long and drawn-out, so I brought the book to the practice facility with me one day, as I often spent time reading in between meetings, practice and more meetings. I remember sitting in the locker-room, flipping through the book, when I discovered there was an alphabetical index in the back, listing the names and charges levied against every NFL player.
Not only was I dumbfounded by how many players had been in trouble with the law at one point or another, but I couldn't believe how many of the guys were on my team at the time.
In hindsight, my next move probably wasn't the smartest thing to do. But I was so stupefied by the involvement of so many of my teammates, I started reading their names out loud to everybody within earshot, followed by the charges that had been levied against them. By the time I had identified the fifth player or so, a crowd had formed around my locker and several of the players listed in the book expressed their extreme displeasure about my vocalization of their past histories.
When people talk about near-death experiences in their lives, that was about as close as I have got in my time.
Anyone who has played professional football or followed it knows you don't have to be a good person to play the game. One of the aspects I always enjoyed most about the industry is the same attribute why so many unsavoury individuals can find employment in the NFL.
In pro football, the biggest determinant of your time in the game is your performance on the field. Compared to other industries where the success of employees may be limited by politics, unions, relationships or other factors, what always speaks the loudest in football is your talent and ability. If you are good enough, teams will overlook almost anything you might have done to have you play and perform for them. Depending upon your value to the organization, even the rules between players can be different.
I was on a professional football team where, in the course of one weekend, two players were charged with impaired driving. One of them was a starter and the other was a player on the fringe of the active roster. The starting player had to go to the front of the auditorium, where we held our daily team meetings, and apologize to the team and the organization for bringing it into disrepute. The other player, the one who wasn't as valuable, was simply cut from the team.
Pro football is a game where trying to be more aggressive than everybody else, and having a mean streak and violent tendencies, is a requirement and an asset.
Early in my career, I had a position coach pull me aside and tell me that my run-stopping and pass-rushing development was coming along nicely, yet I had to start getting nastier on the field.
"It's OK to be a nice guy off of the field, but once you step on it," they told me, "you have to have that killer switch."
With what we have seen in the course of one week in the NFL, too often, it seems, that switch stays turned on.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 11, 2012 C4