Character's Role in the National Football League

Ben BarrCorrespondent ISeptember 22, 2010

Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens on the same team? How important is character to the Bengals?
Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens on the same team? How important is character to the Bengals?Joe Robbins/Getty Images

There have clearly been many different opinions by National Football League organizations on the issue of players’ character.  Elite teams and storied franchises in the NFL have been able to see how bad character can negatively affect their team although some have lost their way with character judgment on some occasions. More up and coming teams have been known to take on players with character issues as they look for any piece to the puzzle to get them to greater success. Players with questionable character have really shown that there is a fair amount of risk to the potential reward of their on-field production.

            Wide receiver has proven to be an important position to have dynamic players for a team to be successful in the NFL. It has also had its fair share of players that have lacked a team-first attitude at times. Brandon Marshall punched his ticket out of Denver with several spats with head coach Josh McDaniels. Surprisingly Marshall was able to get exactly what he wanted, a fresh start with the Miami Dolphins and a very lucrative new deal. Terrell Owens ruined great situations in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Dallas with teammates and management over issues varying from dividing locker rooms, complaining about how many times passes are thrown his way, and wanting more money. Owens seems to have finally found his way to being a good teammate after an uneventful year in Buffalo and joining fellow outspoken wideout Chad Ochocinco with the Cincinnati Bengals. It seems that both of them have finally learned to be team players just in time before they have become teammates.

            Some teams have willingly taken on players with known character issues to increase the overall talent level on their rosters. Cincinnati and Dallas are prime examples. Ironically both clubs have brought in Terrell Owens, Pacman Jones, and Tank Johnson at different times. Both risked dealing with Owens’s influence on teammates and Jones and Johnson’s run-ins with the law in order to win more games. The Cowboys did not find any success with them, winning their first playoff game in 13 years when they were all finally gone. Cincinnati has not had any problems yet, although T.O.’s performance is continuing to decline and Jones and Johnson are not nearly the same players they were in Tennessee and Chicago, respectively after lengthy suspensions. The Redskins reached deep into their pockets again to sign Albert Haynesworth to a $100 million contract. Haynesworth has shown to be a dominant defensive force but has become notorious for stomping on a player’s unprotected face and complaining about playing in a 3-4 defense in Washington, where he is currently being paid millions to fail a conditioning test. Michael Vick did not do anything significant in his first year back in football with the Philadelphia Eagles after he was in prison for upwards of two years for dog fighting. He has, however, shown that his physical condition and strength are improving through the first few preseason games this August. Time will tell how these acquisitions in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Washington help or hurt these franchises.

            Several players have made very bad decisions with women and are continuing to face consequences for it; most notably Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. After two incidents of alleged sexual misconduct within one year, Roethlisberger was suspended for up to six games of the 2010 season and has turned many Pittsburgh fans against him because of his actions. His privilege to be able to stay with the club may be because of his franchise quarterback status and $102 million contract, considering Pittsburgh traded Super Bowl XLIII Most Valuable Player wide receiver Santonio Holmes after allegedly throwing a glass at a woman and cutting her face. Holmes responded on to criticism he received on Twitter by a follower by telling them to kill themselves. Former running back Travis Henry has been suspended by the NFL since 2008 for substance abuse and is having trouble paying child support payments to at least 11 women who he has fathered at least 13 children with, and going through a cocaine trafficking trial at the same time. If Henry is sent to prison for a long time for the cocaine charges he will certainly have a hard time staying out of county jails for not being able to pay for child support, which his attorney estimates as up to $170,000 per year. To make matters worse the disgraced running back has also recently spent $250,000 on jewelry. It is hard to imagine how many bad decisions that someone could make after having the privilege of playing a game for millions of dollars.

            Even with so many high-profile players having bad character, some have shown great behavior and a love for helping teammates and their community. The Broncos took a step forward by drafting Florida quarterback Tim Tebow after trading the headache that was Brandon Marshall. Tebow is sure to do great things in the Denver community after speaking at prisons and spreading the Bible’s message to a lot of people. Drew Brees saw that he could have a great positive impact on the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and signed with the Saints. He has done a lot of charity work for the ravaged city and delivered a Super Bowl championship for the first time to Bourbon Street this past February in Super Bowl XLIV. The NFL still has players with great character although so much is heard about the mistakes that players make off the field.

            Players with bad character tend to have careers that really decline after their run-ins with the law or disagreements with teammates. It seems that events like this take a player’s focus away from what needs to be done to prepare, execute, and win on Sundays. Players with great work ethic and moderate skill should be considered before elite players that have the kind of character that can ruin a team’s chance at success. Character’s role in the NFL is way too often a negative one for teams and players alike.


Some information and statistics about Henry, Haynesworth, and Roethlisberger were found at: