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Ignorance abounds in the offseason
Athletes ó football players in particular ó donít have reputations as being the brightest bulbs in the marquee.
Thereís a reason for that.
Maybe the reputation isnít deserved. Although running full-speed into another human being 50 or 60 times over the course of a game doesnít really seem like a smart move for anybody, there are plenty of football players out there who are intelligent, well-spoken and clearly have their act together. The NFL is filled with really bright people who have their lives in order and are interested in just doing a good job and pursuing excellence on the gridiron.
Unfortunately, the headlines weíve been reading lately havenít really paid testament to that majority.
Letís start in Cleveland, where the most serious situation exists. By now, youíve all heard about Kellen Winslow and the motorcycle accident that he had. He was laid up in the Cleveland Clinic for eight days, including spending time in intensive care, with mysterious injuries.
There was talk of internal injuries. There were rumors that his shoulder was a mess. There were whispers that he had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. If the ACL problem proves to be true, it likely would mean that Winslow would miss the entire 2005 season. For a guy who played just two games of his rookie season before suffering a broken right leg, missing another season with an injury to the same leg certainly would have to be a concern.
Iím happy that Winslow was able to at least hobble away from his accident. Itís clear that the incident could have been much, much worse. Former Duke and Chicago Bulls guard Jason Williams can attest to that. Heís another young, promising athlete who decided to tempt fate on a motorcycle. Unfortunately for him, heís fighting an uphill battle to recover from his injuries and return to the game he loves.
I sincerely hope that Winslow can get back to the field and fulfill the promise his career held last spring. His attitude isnít for everyone ó his ďIím a soldierĒ tirade during his final season at Miami (Fla.) still sticks out for most people ó but itís clear that he is driven.
Still, Iím baffled at his stupidity. Athletes live a pampered life. They certainly work hard on their bodies and on honing their skills. Nobody questions that. But that doesnít mean they can live the lives they want. Winslowís contract clearly stated that he was not supposed to ride a motorcycle. Itís dangerous and not something the Browns wanted their highly paid investment to be doing.
My father, Norm, has long said that he never could understand why someone would want to ride a motorcycle when, in the course of an accident, there is nothing between your ass and the asphalt but your jeans. Norm ainít a fan of motorcycles, folks. Winslow found out the hard way that risky endeavors invite bad results.
But Iím almost more disappointed that the Browns didnít take Winslow to task for his stupidity. They had every right to void his contract and leave him in their wake. Itís tough to do that with a first-round pick in any circumstance, but a point would have been made that athletes can face consequences beyond themselves if they choose to defy their contracts.
Instead, the Browns have said they will not send Winslow packing. Heís too good a player to have to face the real consequences that most of us would have to face if we didnít live up to what was demanded of us in our jobs. Browns team president John Collins said in a press conference earlier this week that he knows the teamís rights and knows the team is protected if it changes its mind.
Hopefully Winslowís situation will convince other NFL players to leave the motorcycles behind, at least while they are contractually bound to stay off them. A football career is short, and there will be plenty of time for players to ride motorcycles after their playing days are over. Itís too bad that Winslow didnít realize that sooner.
Itís also too bad that Vikings RB Onterrio Smith didnít realize sooner that when you are a two-time loser to the NFLís drug policy, you probably should steer clear of anything having anything to do with drug use. But there he was in late April, being investigated by airport police because he had a kit designed to circumvent drug tests.
Smith told police that he was carrying it for his cousin. Smithís attorney, David Cornwell, said that the kit was given to Smith and that he had forgotten it in his carry-on bag, adding that heís prepared to ďlive or die with that statement, whether or not you believe it.Ē
Whatever Smithís intentions, just having the kit was ignorant, especially considering his history. Itís obvious that with the way the NFL conducts its drug testing, the kit, which straps on around a personís waist, would not fool anybody. And even if he had been given the kit by some unknown person ó again, considering his history ó why would Smith bother to travel with the kit and subject himself even to the possibility of running into a problem?
Again, the reputation of NFL players not being the sharpest knives in the drawer comes to mind.
The league is looking into whether Smith will face penalties, but I would be surprised if he pays a price for his stupidity. After all, he was carrying something perfectly legal in his baggage and wasnít caught using it by the league. Technically he has done nothing wrong, in a strict sense of the word.
But in an image-conscious world, itís stunning that he would even put himself in a position to be ridiculed.
One bright side is that the Eagles appear to be putting their foot down on stupidity to a certain point. Owner Jeffrey Lurie has made it clear that he isnít going to be renegotiating WR Terrell Owensí contract any time soon. Owens has complained that he isnít being paid his true worth despite signing a seven-year contract last summer, and he has threatened to hold out for more money.
Lurie isnít having it, and he is clear that he will stand strong on this issue.
I have heard the argument that teams donít always honor contracts because they can terminate the deals if a player is injured or if a playerís salary-cap number gets too high or if a player just isnít productive anymore.
The argument is correct in that NFL player contracts generally are not guaranteed. Then again, ďguaranteeingĒ a contract can be part of contract negotiations before a player signs it. Plus, NFL players know full well how the business works. Thatís why signing bonuses pay so much money up front. Players know they likely will not see the end of monster contracts, so they take a large bulk payment right away. And oftentimes for the top players ó which Owens is ó they land on their feet with another big deal with another big signing bonus.
I applaud Lurie for saying enough is enough. Athletes talk about job security, but I donít know anyone with job security. Iíve been laid off in my life. My wife and father have been, as well. Plenty of friends of mine have been. Maybe you or a loved one has faced the same situation. One day, life is going along just fine. The next day, youíre out of a job.
At least athletes have the luxury of being able to smell it when a release is coming, and itís nice to have a solid financial background ó as long as there was good planning ó to fall back on. Most people just get dropped out of the clear blue and have to scramble to find new jobs and just survive.
In all three of these cases, there are some who will try to paint the players in a sympathetic light. Winslow is just trying to live his life. Smith didnít know he had the kit in his bag. Owens just is trying to earn what he is worth.
I donít want to hear it. These players have tried to play the world for fools by either trying to beat the system or by trying to whine until they get their way. Instead, stupidity on all three of their parts makes them appear greedy or, at the very least, not all that bright. Certainly there are different issues in play. Winslow faced life and death. Smith is toying with his career. Owens is taking another hit to his image.
But all three have one thing in common. They donít want to play by the rules, and they want your sympathy because of it. Iím not buying it, and I hope you wonít, either.