Friday, August 22, 2008

Rule by Hypocrisy

If the NFL ever were to have a downfall, one of the more likely culprits--in addition to pending seat licenses for all teams--probably would be the degree to which NFL coaches and front offices speak so eagerly out of both sides of their mouths. Without exploring the Brett Favre situation any further, the NFL still offers several prescient such moments.

The Cincinnati Bengals surely lead the league in organizationally saying one thing and doing another. Already saddled with a history of bringing in players of questionable character and promising fans a change, the Bengals nevertheless selected West Virginia wide receiver, Chris Henry, in the third round of the 2005 NFL draft. Henry's drop to the third round was telling for a player that produced 22 touchdowns in 23 collegiate games, but that did not dampen the Bengals' enthusiasm.

Almost immediately, Henry rewarded the Bengals' astute insighting, finding himself on the wrong side of the law in numerous alcohol, driving, and assault offenses. On March 31st of this year, after repeated warnings by the Bengals that he was on his final probation with the team, Henry again defied the organization, pummeling a University of Cincinnati student.

The response from Bengals' President, Mike Brown, ever the apologist for his mentally challenged wide receiver, was uncharacteristically swift and pointed. "Chris Henry has forfeited his opportunity to pursue a career with the Bengals," Brown tersely stated to the media. "His conduct can no longer be tolerated." The Bengals immediately released Henry.

Until this week, Henry remained unemployed--another telling sign in a league of "second chances" for players capable of playing. Then Chad Johnson became injured and the Browns suddenly saw things in a different light, bringing back the guy who "had run out of chances with the Bengals." Brown defended his decision to re-sign Henry as one borne out of his role as a "redeemer." Lewis was less nauseating in his defense of Henry's signing, but only slightly so, calling Henry "humbled" by his inability to latch on with another team.

How humbled is Henry? That all depends on how hard you squint and how well you screen out what Henry says. Responding to a local radio analyst's inquiry regarding what he had learned by being brought up on charges for the fifth time in three years, Henry replied in typically addled fashion. "I learned a lot, man," he coherently offered. "This little incident that happened a couple months ago, it really was out of my hands. I'm just going to keep doing the same things that I've been doing since coming back from my suspension last season."

Henry's statement truly speaks for itself. But, as if to put a fine point on the discussion, Henry offered this when asked to discuss his regrets. "It's been tough, man. It's been a long three months, not being on a ball club and just being in the house [under house arrest]. I've just got to try to put it all behind me and hopefully it'll all come together here soon and I'll be able to move on with my life."

For Henry, the regret is not having done numerous things that he should not have done. Rather, his regret is that he was forced to sit in his house for but the latest of those transgressions. Clearly, Henry understands things perfectly now. And, so too clearly, does Mike Brown.

To be certain, the Browns are far from the only team in the NFL that has opted to turn a blind eye toward the transgressions of certain players. Despite announcing a "culture of accountability" upon taking over the Minnesota Vikings, Vikings' owner Ziggy Wilf is "allowing the legal process to play out" before deciding how to respond to left tackle Bryant McKinnie's beating of a Miami bouncer with a metal pipe; in Miami, the Dolphins have welcomed back Ricky Williams after cutting ties with a player who, two years ago, professed that he would rather get high than play in the NFL; and the Chicago Bears retained the services of Ricky Manning Jr. after the Bears' defensive back attacked a UCLA student in a Denny's restaurant after mocking the student for working on a laptop computer.

While coaches and front offices continue to talk about ridding their teams of "bad character" guys, it is evident that there are only two "bad character traits" that would lead most NFL teams to release a player, one being a lengthy prison sentence, the other demonstrated inability to perform on the field. If Chris Henry can get another, will it be long before we see Ray Carruth back in the league or the Juice running the show?

But if, like most NFL fans, you've simply come to accept that this, despite league attempts to provide window dressing to the contrary, is how things work in the NFL, will you have the same fortitude when John Madden starts talking up "great story" about how one of these ding dongs "turned his life around?"

Up Next: Pre-Season.

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