October 1, 2008
Cincinnati Bengals Owner Mike Brown has a history of giving second chances to players with legal issues. Knowing that, fans should not be surprised by the Bengals signing of former Chicago Bears
running back Cedric Benson on Tuesday. Benson was spurned by the Bears
and scorned by the media after two alcohol-related arrests over a five-week period earlier this year. Headlines from Benson's arrests were enough to destroy his reputation and all but end his once promising career, regardless of what actually took place. Through it all, Benson maintained his innocence in both incidents.
"I'm sticking to my story," Benson said in May. "The truth will come out some time, whether it'll be now or a year from now or whenever."
The truth came out last week, when two Travis County grand juries decided not to indict Benson for the two alcohol-related arrests.
According to Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, there were problems in both cases. In a boating-while-intoxicated arrest on May 3, officials did not conduct a field sobriety test and there was no video evidence. Police initially reported Benson failed an abbreviated sobriety test and was placed under arrest by the Lower Colorado River Authority. They claimed he then became combative with the officers and was pepper-sprayed. Benson told a different story.
"I politely asked him why we needed to go to land to take more tests when I took every test," Benson said. "Then he sprayed me with mace, on his boat. I'm not handcuffed. I'm not under arrest. I'm not threatening him. I'm not pushing him. I'm not touching him. And he sprays me right in the eye."
Along with insisting he was not drunk and accusing the authorities of pepper-spraying him without provocation, Benson said the police kicked his feet out from under him, dragged him from the patrol boat and nearly drowned him with a water hose before dumping him into a squad car. The 12-15 passengers (including his mother) aboard Benson's 30-foot boat verified his account. Benson also told reporters every time he has taken his boat out, he has gotten pulled over for a "random safety inspection."
While at University of Texas, Benson earned a reputation as a pot-smoking partier. As an All-American football player who finished his collegiate career as the 6th leading rusher in Division I-A history, Benson was nearly untouchable to both defenders and law enforcement.
Then the kid became the fourth overall selection in the NFL
draft and signed a multi-million dollar contract. In the off-seasons he returned home to Austin to lavishly enjoy his hard-earned money. Is it far-fetched to believe Austin authorities resented him for it?
On June 7, Benson was pulled over by the Austin Police Department for allegedly running a red light (Benson claims it was yellow) and performed a field sobriety test. Benson then offered to give a blood sample for testing (Texas law allows either a blood or breath test for alcohol content), but was told he would have to take a breath test. He was subsequently arrested for driving while intoxicated. There was video evidence of the encounter in which Benson actually "appears very well," Escamilla said.
Despite the glaring discrepancies of the two accounts, the attorney didn't believe Benson was being mistreated by police.
"We call them as we see them," Escamilla explained.
Well I call them as I see them too. And it's called racial profiling.
The City of Austin Police Department has been discriminating and incriminating African-Americans for years. According to studies of City of Austin documents, when APD officers have a choice to either issue a citation or make an arrest, Blacks in Austin are more than 3 times as likely to be arrested and incarcerated than others. Additionally, a person with black skin is 31 times more likely to be incarcerated than a person with white skin for the same drug crime. (keepaustinsafe.org)
Please read the last paragraph again, or as many times as it takes to sink in.
Now imagine: Benson passed a field sobriety test, offered to give a blood sample, appeared "very well" and was STILL arrested for driving while intoxicated!
Racial profiling is part of a larger societal issue that permeates much more than a police department. It seems as though everyone, even (if not especially) the Chicago Bears were out to portray Benson as Jerry Angelo's "disappointment"; a drunken, dopey-eyed dunderhead too dumb to stay out of trouble.
The Bears ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing yards per game and 32nd in yards per carry in 2007, Benson's first full season as a starter. Rather than the Bears receiving blame for making a poor draft selection, they were able to deflect it onto with Benson by convincing fans he was too much of a problem to keep his job.
Well he may have liked to party, he may have made poor decisions, he may have been an underachiever, but ultimately he was innocent of the crimes that terminated his non-guaranteed contract.
Of any of the players Mike Brown has given a second chance to, Benson is by far the most-deserving. Hopefully he can go on to have the long, productive career once expected of him.
I can see him celebrating his first Bengals touchdown already...pointing up to the sky, then to his nose, and walking straight down the goal line. He can take a breath now, he has passed his biggest test.