Last week we witnessed the tragedy of Kansas City Chief linebacker, Jovan Belcher, who murdered his girlfriend, then took his own life. This week, Josh Brent of the Dallas Cowboys killed his friend Jerry Brown when he got in his car after drinking far too much. This is just one of a string DUIs by NFL players who just can’t seem to exercise the same control over their personal lives as they do on the football field.
This is not just a problem in the NFL, but seems to be an issue across the entire arena of professional sports. We have young men at the peak of their physical development with more money than they ever dreamed of. Other than natural born pot stirrers like Terrell Owens and Dennis Rodman, such athletes follow the rules pretty much when under the authority of their coaches and team.
Yet, on their own time, many, particularly the unattached young men find their new found wealth and freedom to be more than they can handle safely. In many ways, some are like lottery winners who find the good fortune to be more of a curse than a blessing. Others, with a firm grounding of personal values and an understanding of right and wrong, seem to be able to handle all the good things that come their way with minimal adjustment.
It may be that many of these more mainstream sports could look into the world of NASCAR. The sanctioning body has some of the strictest drug use policies in any professional sports. This is, in part, due to hazards of handling a 3600 pound missile and somewhere around 200 miles per hour. Crashing out at that speed can do a little more to the human body than being run over by a 300 pound lineman. But, there is more to the clean life than simple safety rules.
What keeps the drivers on the more or less straight and narrow is a factor most athletes do not have to deal with: sponsors. The idea of sponsors putting their names on the racers quarter panels carries with it the concept of representation of the corporate image. Drivers don’t just represent their benefactors at the race track, but they appear at corporate functions and their smiling faces grace television commercials. Corporate masters do not like their representatives to reflect badly on the business and its products.
In the old days, the drivers were just as wild and wooly as today’s football and basketball players… perhaps moreso. Curtis Turner was well known for his bar room brawls on Saturday nights before big races. Tim Richmond had a reputation as kind of a wild man. Charlie Glotzback was a dandy driver but his off track life style put a limit on how far he could go in the sport. None of these shenanigans would be tolerated in the high dollar world of today’s stock car racing.
A few years ago Ernie Ervin found himself in trouble after a squabble in a bar. More recently, cracker jack driver, Kurt Busch lost his ride with the top tier Penske organization because he could not control his tongue. Yes, the sport many “sophisticates” on both coasts look down their haughty noses at has a much tighter rein on the personal misdeeds than those sports that dominate SportsCenter.
While there are economic considerations, corporate sponsors are very much concerned with the image they present to the people. Scandals to do not translate into increased profits. It is unfortunate that NFL teams do not place as much emphasis on good press role modeling as the major corporations who provide the dollars for fender rubbing competition.
The teams tend to overlook many misbehaviors if they believe the a player will give them an advantage. In some ways, they seem to believer that any publicity is good publicity. Perhaps, if they took as much interest in the personal well being and reputation of their team as they do on keeping the pieces of meat ready for game day, they may not have to deal with as many tragedies as we have seen in recent years.
Of course, winning is the name of the game, but when the people who do the heavy lifting are used and abused and pushed beyond their mental and physical limits – bad things happen. It would take a degree of integrity far beyond the comprehension of most organizations to set a player aside if he didn’t live up to a teams personal standards. The teams have an awful lot of money invested in these young men, and, too often, tend to gloss over their misdeeds. This is not doing the players any favors in the long term.
So, while the Cowboys may mourn the loss of a team member, it would be far better to help them stay safe and enjoy their new found prosperity.