An offseason in the NFL is a time where teams urge their players to be careful and make smart decisions. But the perception seems to be that these guys have a hard time avoiding trouble.
Browns star receiver Josh Gordon’s recent speeding incident doesn’t help this perception, especially with marijuana found on a passenger in his car—all of this as he awaits a decision on a pending drug-related season-long suspension.
Arizona’s Pro Bowl linebacker Daryl Washington was suspended for the entire 2014 season after another violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy. The Cards just recently exercised a $10 million option to keep him on the roster.
Will Hill, who plays safety for the New York Giants, is another player in the news recently after being suspended six games for a substance-abuse violation.
So why do NFL players find themselves in unfavorable news stories so often during the offseason? Just from reading the headlines, fights, drunken driving, drugs and just about any other troubling incident you can think of seem to be par for the course.
If you give a few thousand young men millions of dollars, rock-hard bodies and tons of free time, you should expect some shenanigans from time to time. Naturally, NFL players are held to a higher standard than your typical 25-year-old. Part of the job requirement is to represent the organization and the shield positively.
Under the new collective bargaining agreement, players have more free time than ever before. Nowadays, coaches can't have very many football-related conversations with players until the middle of April, at the earliest.
The offseason program primarily consists of weight-room training followed by speed and conditioning on the field. Most of these sessions prohibit coaches from making an appearance, and an entire workday is about four hours on average. This leaves a lot of free time for these guys to occupy with something constructive and safe.
According to an NFL arrest database, per USA Today, eight active NFL players have been arrested in 2014 so far, not including San Francisco's Aldon Smith and Chris Culliver, who were strangely left out of of the publication's report. This is not a crazy number, but trouble can and does come in other forms.
|ATL||Roddy White||WR||Failure to appear; illegally tinted windows|
|BAL||Ray Rice||RB||Domestic violence|
|SF||Daniel Kilgore||OG||Public intoxication|
|TB||Michael Hill||RB||Bar fight; resisting arrest|
|MIN||Erin Henderson||LB||DUI; drugs|
|SF||Aldon Smith||LB||False Report of Bomb Threat|
|SF||Chris Culliver||CB||Hit and Run|
Most of the time, when NFL players aren’t playing football, the single ones are quick to turn their attention to the opposite sex. It’s also no secret that women tend to flock around professional athletes and are willing to go to great lengths in order to get close to these men.
To some degree, you can say trouble does go looking for these young men, and every now and then they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.
To pretend like these athletes are not targets for shady people looking to exploit them for fame or cash would be closed off to reality. However, these players are also guilty to an equal extent, using their fame and cash to get what they want from others.
For one graphic example into the social activities these players participate in, all you have to do is read the text conversations (language NSFW) between former teammates Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito.
Nearly every mention of "hanging out" in those texts seemed centered around hooking up with women. All other activities and destinations served merely as a means to an end.
Even when these kids are not doing anything wrong, they’re still prime candidates to be criticized if they are caught having fun outside of football.
Despite incidents like the developing Aaron Hernandez ordeal, it seems rather difficult to conclude that NFL players are more likely to get into trouble compared to the average male in his 20s.
To be fair, unparalleled media coverage has created a somewhat unjustified stigma for the league and its players. Based on my firsthand experience, most of the men populating NFL locker rooms are mature and responsible individuals.
There are hundreds of amazing players in the NFL that do great, charitable things without any fanfare. We should honor them.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) June 27, 2013
In general, NFL athletes aren’t scholars—nor do they originate from distinguished backgrounds or well-mannered socialites—but even when they do, it takes a certain type of person to excel at the game of football.
The people we’re most likely to resemble are the ones we observed around us. So when you grow up in a poor, dangerous neighborhood, raised in poverty and surrounded by crime, your mindset is understandably going to be quite different than someone raised in a suburban track home and going to a private school. That's not to say it is impossible to break the cycle, but it is certainly difficult.
Our past has a tendency to follow us.
When a guy makes it to the NFL, it’s common for people from his past to remain close. Any attempts to separate from one’s past will be perceived as arrogance and forgetting where he came from. Guys in the locker room refer to this as “big-timing” someone.
This is naturally a label anyone would try to avoid, yet doing so while cutting ties with old friends is definitely a tricky balance. The most common thing to do for most guys in such a dilemma is to satisfy their obligation toward loyalty as well as stick with the devil they know—but in doing so they lay a foundation for potential trouble.
With that said, the NFL is not an incubator for social unrest and illegal behavior, nor is it a league filled with men who harvest malicious thoughts. For the most part, football promotes healthy competition and teaches responsibility to generations of young adults while providing these men with a head start in life that only a few will ever experience.
The problem is not the players or the league. The problem is equal parts time, money and youth, all put in the hands of enough people who walk around with a target on their backs and a spotlight watching every move they make.
In truth, I’m surprised we don’t hear about more players getting in trouble during an NFL offseason.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player who writes for Bleacher Report.