NFL Bad Guys: 15 Players Who Give the League a Bad Name
Do I feel a certain responsibility to be a role model? Yes I do. But I don’t think it’s my job to raise people’s kids.
She said that on a panel of athletes at the espnw conference last year. Not surprisingly, the younger the athlete, the less moral pressure they felt to set an example for “the youth of America.” The ones with families recognized the difficulties presented when the most privileged and fortunate in our society misbehave with seeming abandon.
This isn’t a political article about greed among the top one percent or an assertion that every successful public figure has to be Tim Tebow-esque in their rectitude. I think most of us acknowledge that no one is perfect, that everyone makes mistakes and that we put too much pressure on our entertainers to be moral leaders.
And yet, sometimes it is hard to be a NFL fan. I love this sport, but it is a violent game and a lot of people are offended by that fact. I understand. My husband is a boxing fan and I had to learn enough about the sport to co-exist in the living room during a bout. I did come to appreciate the skill. But it is too brutal for me. And I know that’s how some people feel about football.
It can be hard to explain why I set aside every Sunday from August—February for the express purpose of devouring as many NFL contests as possible. And I don’t need arrest headlines waved in my face when I’m trying to discuss the allure of a high-flying offense or the awe inspired by a masterful D.
I’m a fan of sports because, unlike many jobs where success is a function of which social group into which you are born, to be a star athlete you actually have to able to do something. And do it well. I respect that and I believe that it is the essence of why sports can provide valuable character lessons about how sometimes being really good at what you do matters.
So, yeah, I get angry with a bunch of over-paid, purposefully ignorant boys who can’t manage to control their testosterone enough to refrain from:
1) Abusing women and animals (15 percent of arrests are for domestic violence and I found multiple instances of animal neglect and abuse)
2) Starting fights with people much smaller than themselves (21 percent)
3) Drinking and driving (28 percent)
4) Carrying guns to social events (eight percent)
5) Either cheating with or dealing drugs (13 percent are criminal drug charges)
6) Variations and combinations of the above, almost always including “resisting arrest” (15 percent)
And here are the NFL pros who (*$^&%$%^ me off the most.
Albert Haynesworth: Just Plain Mean
Albert is a quadruple winner in the low-life department:
He has started fights, assaulted women, played dirty and phoned it in after signing a $100 million contract.
Even if you didn’t know about his ongoing legal difficulties arising from his inability to keep his hands off of people (women and men) while “out on the town,” you will probably remember seeing him literally stomp on an opponent's head after a play.
And even casual fans know that he hasn’t played a productive down since Tennessee unloaded his out-of-shape butt onto the ‘Skins a few years ago.
Why doesn’t he just take his millions and get out of our sight?
Shawne Merriman: PEDs and Pro Bowls
The Manny Ramirez of the NFL, Merriman stormed onto the scene in San Diego at the end of the Junior Seau era. Hailed as the heir apparent, Merriman promptly became a sack machine and Pro Bowl star.
And then he got busted for steroids.
And the NFL let him play in the Pro Bowl anyway! Fortunately, he did not win Defensive Player of the Year, although six selectors voted for him anyway. Barry Bonds fans, I guess.
The NFL refuses to comment on the widespread belief that Merriman, like Ramirez, was only a star when juicing. This official silence has done nothing to blunt the fact that, as soon as he got busted, his production fell off and his body started falling apart.
Do I have a dirty syringe? No. Do I believe it? Absolutely.
The Chargers traded him to Buffalo where he has yet to contribute past the middle of October due to injuries. What are we supposed to think?
Donte Stallworth: Just Plain Tragic
All sarcasm aside, this man killed someone while driving drunk. Most of us have driven after one too many. We are all just lucky it didn’t happen to us. Therefore, let’s not start judging a bunch of 20-something males in packs too harshly for drinking while out on the town.
However, there are two issues here that we as the paying public can really take issue with:
1) Why can’t a millionaire hire a driver?
I get it on the designated driver thing: very, very few people do that. And do you know why? Because being around drunken people when you are sober is one of the most boring activities on the planet.
So hire a nice, anonymous chauffeur who will drop you off and pick you up. Seriously, how hard is that when you have all the money in the world? Further, most NFL teams have a “no questions asked” call-in number for a free ride home.
Insisting on driving themselves is understandable given the stupidity of the early 20s. But, unlike most early 20-somethings, NFL players have several other options. All they have to do is pay for them.
2) How was he allowed to buy his way out of killing someone?
He's not in jail. While America’s laws on manslaughter under these circumstances remain abysmally lax, most people do actually spend a year behind bars. But once again, the only color that really matters isn’t white or black or brown—it’s green.
I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time defending Stallworth being allowed to continue playing in the NFL. Yes, I know he was suspended. Big deal. I’m sure that’s very comforting.
The other side of this coin is the sad fact that 28 percent of football player arrests are for alcohol-related problems. Alcoholism affects one in 10 Americans, so this is a depressing stat.
JaMarcus Russell, Matt Jones and packer DE Johnny Jolly are just a few recent names with addiction problems that contributed to their demise as players. It doesn’t help that none of them were charming players with exemplary work ethics, but addiction doesn't tend to be charming or hard-working.
Plaxico Burress: Just Plain Stupid
With honorable mention to Robaire Smith and Shaun Rogers.
These men are on my list more out of stupidity than anything else.
Smith and Rogers took guns to airports. Seriously? And you were surprised when security got upset?
And Plaxico Burress shot himself in the thigh when he had a loaded gun stuffed in the waistband of his pants. As if this isn’t mind-blowingly stupid enough, he did it in New York City. The only place with less of a sense of humor about gun possession than an airport is—New York City.
However, while Plax is no rocket scientist, he does have a point when he complains that he spent more time in jail that did Michael Vick. More on that later.
Charles Grant’s gun problem was not so humorous, as a pregnant woman died from gunshots sustained in a fight he was in outside of a nightclub.
Cedric Benson and Pacman Jones: Are You Listening?
Benson went from being a heart-warming draft day moment (when he was so touchingly overjoyed at being drafted by the Bears) to someone who can’t make it through a season without being charged with assault. He got booted out of Chicago and now plays for the Bengals, where he excels as a running back—when he’s not serving a suspension.
Pacman Jones (I will call him Adam when he starts acting like a grownup) manages to get arrested in a nightclub fight virtually anytime he is unsupervised. And, when he was supervised in Dallas—where Jones assigned him some baby-sitter bodyguards—he fought with them.
Worse, I’m starting to think that these guys are never going to “get it.” I’m very afraid that they will both end badly and be the subject of some heart-wrenching ESPN documentary in 10 years. If they live that long.
Kenny Britt: Failure to Learn
The lockout poster boy for bad behavior, Kenny was arrested three times during the lockout. Three. You have to work at that. While nothing was very serious, it’s embarrassing as a fan to have to answer the question, “So, who’s that WR who keeps getting arrested? What’s his problem?”
Worse, his behavior with arresting officers was about to get him into significant NFL suspension territory. And then he tore up a hamstring and is on I-R.
I’m not a total believer in karma, but still...
Chris Johnson: Just Plain Greedy
What else do you call holding out for a ridiculously humongous amount of money in the middle of the worst recession in 80 years?
To make matters worse, the man is performing so badly in 2011 that I’m reasonably sure the Titans will cut him at the end of the season. I hope they do.
Johnson is far from alone in this category. He’s just the current shining example of completely losing touch with one’s own relative value and context within society.
James Harrison and Cortland Finnegan: Playing Dirty
I completely understand losing one’s cool. While I believe that men who have been playing a contact sport since the age of seven should have learned self-control by the time they become pros (isn’t that one of the main reasons parents have their kids plays sports?), I can’t demonize someone for a momentary lapse.
And I completely understand and appreciate that this is a violent game.
But any player who intentionally tries to hurt opponents…Correction: any player who intentionally tries to injure opponents has no place in a sport. Go be a street thug since that’s what you make people think football players are.
Playing Dirty is a physical manifestation of mean-spiritedness. And that cheapens us all.
On a recent Sound FX on the NFL Network, Finnegan was wired during a game against the Colts. He was evidently assigned to cover Dallas Clark since they were together throughout the show. Clark started out joking with him between snaps. But before halftime, Dallas Clark had to come up to him and say, “I want so much to like you, man. But you’re hitting my guy in the back when he’s defenseless.”
Finnegan couldn’t have cared less.
Lions, 49ers and Raiders: Fans Give Football a Bad Name Too
Most people have heard about the gunfight outside of Candlestick in August. I can’t tell you how disheartening fan violence is to me. It is the antithesis of everything that sports are supposed to be. Sports exist to channel human aggression into harmless forms, not to incite people to hurt each other. So let’s get a grip, folks. It’s football (or baseball or hockey…).
Then there are the entrepreneurial individuals in Detroit who decided to come equipped with their own party bus. Well, fine, you say. What’s wrong with that? Sounds clever.
Clever it may have been, but it also turned out to be a mobile and unlicensed strip club. Busted.
Terrell Owens, Chad Ocho Cinco: Plain Old Selfishness
Can we stop reviling these guys already? They haven’t been arrested, convicted or jailed. They haven’t beaten women or tortured animals.
T.O., by the way, has not been arrested. He missed a court hearing to renegotiate his child support and the court doesn’t like it when you don’t show up, so they issued a warrant. He was otherwise engaged holding an NFL tryout.
And, for the record, he is only trying to renegotiate the support because it is based on his former $12 million salary and not on the fact that he is currently unemployed. As usual, he didn’t handle it well, but I don’t blame him.
These guys obviously have deep insecurities and issues, but they aren’t bad people. I’m not sure that I would want them on my team simply due to the “me” factor, but they don’t qualify as giving the sport a bad name.
For more on these gentlemen check out:
Brandon Marshall, Randy Moss and Vince Young: A Little Compassion
There are a lot of young men in this category in the NFL. I don’t know if there is a correlation between athletic excellence and mental health problems. But there are quite a few athletes whose unacceptable behavior is a product not of meanness, but of legit health concerns.
They don’t embarrass me as a NFL fan. I hope that they get some help and become happier.
Michael Vick and Antonio Pierce: Inexcusable
We are now at the individuals who have done the indefensible. I cannot tell you how much disgust I feel towards the men in these last two sections. They are bad people and I don’t want them in my sport.
We all know about Michael Vick’s animal cruelty activities, which far exceeded the federal dog-fighting charges that put him in jail. I don’t want to rehash what seems to me an abundantly obvious argument against Vick ever being allowed to represent an NFL franchise. For my full position please read:
Many folks seem unaware that former New York Giants’ LB Antonio Pierce pleaded guilty to neglecting his pit bulls. Do you know how hard it is to get someone charged with animal neglect? How bad the situation has to be? It frankly makes me sick to think about it.
And yet, Pierce is happily ensconced at ESPN on NFL Live. And that makes both the network and the sport look horrible.
Ben Roethlisberger and His Misogynistic Cohorts
As if abusing animals isn’t bad enough, the NFL consistently condones violence against women. In fact, Goodell and the owners clearly think that abusing animals is worse, based on the relative suspensions handed out on these charges.
Roethlisberger was accused multiple times of sexual assault. Not once. Several times. And don’t give me “innocent until proven guilty.” I’m not talking law. I’m talking NFL image.
How do I look at my female friends and tell them how much I love this sport when 15 percent of NFL player arrests involve hurting women?
In the past month alone, Denver’s Ryan McBean was accused of stalking, Minnesota DB Chris Cook was arrested (again) for domestic assault and Julian Edelman of the Pats was arrested for repeatedly groping a woman at a Halloween party.
Think about that. Wes Welker was benched for the first plays of a game for making some tongue-in-cheek jibes at Rex Ryan last year. Edelman was a prominent part of the Patriots’ game this week, with no discipline incurred that anyone can see thus far.
Green Bay CB Brandon Underwood, Denver CB Perrish Cox, Saints DE Will Smith (who dragged his wife down the street by her hair) have all been arrested.
Jermaine Phillips, Sean Locklear and Shawne Merriman have been charged with choking their wives/girlfriends. And those are the ones that come to mind immediately.
When will the NCAA stop sweeping sexual assault under the rug at the college level? When will high school coaches start behaving like the mentors they are supposed to be? And when will the NFL institute a no-tolerance policy on charges of violence against women?
No, professional athletes are not supposed to “raise anyone’s kids.” But the very wealthy league stars have to be cognizant of their de facto positions as role models.
They are childhood idols because they are bright and shiny and bigger than life and drive cool cars and wear neat clothes. There is a lot of privilege there. How about just a little social responsibility?