Odell Thurman Released: Cincinnati Bengals Lay Down the Law on the Wrong Guy

Max IasconeSenior Analyst IMay 19, 2008

After two long years out of the league for Odell Thurman, due to a violation of the NFL substance abuse policy, the Cincinnati Bengals have officially cut ties with their embattled linebacker.

So what could Odell Thurman have done to deserve such a punishment after a DUI charge was conveniently overlooked? No, it had nothing to do with strip clubs or substance abuse. In fact, he didn't even flirt with running afoul of the law.

The Bengals supported this man adamantly throughout his two year suspension (and numerous off the field incidents), yet they decided to release Mr. Thurman because he missed a team workout.

Normally, a player's being released after missing a team function is not much to be up in arms about, but if the Bengals were willing to wait for two years to see this guy on the field, I doubt that this was the straw that broke the camel's back.

At first glance, the rationale behind Thurman's release seems to be obvious, he's been testing the patience of his team for a while and the Bengals have had it. However, a closer look at the situation reveals an underlying motive for Thurman's absence from the team workout.

According to one of Thurman's representatives, Safarrah Lawson, Thurman had been in Georgia, tending to his grandmother, who passed away on May 12. He was released a week after his grandmother's death.

It's pretty safe to say that the real motive behind the Bengals' decision has little to do with the team's workout. After all, they have their image to tend to, and after numerous off the field issues involving their players, most recently the Chris Henry fiasco, the Bengals are walking on thin ice.

Mike Brown needed to set an example. He needed to usher in a new era of responsibility (to quote President Bush), and, if that meant canning the first guy who disobeyed a team rule, no matter what the circumstances of the violation, then so be it. Similarly to the situation surrounding Dubya's claim, we all know that this era won't be coming any time soon for Mike Brown and the Bengals.

If I may, allow me to go back to Odell Thurman's rookie year. He led the Bengals in tackles with 148, and racked up five picks and four forced fumbles. True, he has been out of the league for two years, but a player with that kind of potential is seldom ever shown the door for an offense as trivial as missing a workout.

Thurman has also stayed out of trouble on his way to earning another shot in the NFL, something that guys like Chris Henry (who has been given the permission to tryout for an NFL team) and Pac-Man Jones (who was not only kept on the team but was traded for) can't say with a straight face.

This point may have been made already, but it needs to be reiterated: Why keep this guy on the team if he'll be shown the door after missing one workout?

Yes, the NFL is a business, but the man lost his grandmother. Doesn't that count for something? He wasn't being reckless or lazy when he missed that workout, he was being human.

Furthermore, in December of 2003, when Brett Favre's father Irvin died of a heart attack, Favre was a hero for playing in that day's game. Would Favre have been cut had he missed that game?

Of course not, the sports world would have shown an outpouring of sympathy for his predicament anyway, as well it should have. Then again, Favre is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, and Thurman is just a rusty linebacker with off the field problems, but Thurman was treated unfairly nontheless.

Don't get me wrong. Favre's exploits following his father's death showcased the kind of effort and love for the game that makes football such a great sport. The sheer grit, and dedication to his teammates, that it took to play through such a horrible tragedy was immense. I think we all grew to admire number four a little more for what he did that day.

However, Favre was a hero for playing after losing a relative, while Thurman was unceremoniously released for missing a workout in light of a similar tragedy.

Granted, Irvin Favre's death from a heart attack was more sudden than the death of Thurman's grandmother, but the principal remains the same. It is absolutely despicable that Thurman lost his job under circumstances under which most of us would have acted similarly.

Favre was superhuman that day. He was a titan among men. Thurman was only human, and it's OK to be human, we do it every day.

Just imagine for a second: You just lost a family member and have spent the last week mourning his/her passing. Then you get a call from your boss. Apparently, you missed a company brainstorming session, so you've been laid off.

Sure, Thurman will definitely find a place in the NFL due to his superior talent and recently clean slate, but the mere thought of what the Bengals did disgusts me all the same.

Functioning as a business is one thing, but the Bengals' apparent disregard for Thurman's situation is absolutely sickening. I challenge you, nay I beseech you, to tell me that what the Bengals did was acceptable, and do it with a straight face.

Can you do it?

I thought so.