Above The Law?
Troubles from NFL Athletes Past & Present Troubling
Jessie Garcia checks in with this intriguing view of flawed character in the NFL:
From Ben Roethlisberger to Lawrence Taylor, NFL bad behavior is happening so often it's not even shocking anymore. Are athletes feeling above the law? Entitled to things? Are there no morals?
I called William Henderson, the former Packers fullback. In 12 seasons in Green Bay Henderson never had any off-the-field issues himself but saw hundreds of players handle things in good ways, and bad. He still observes the NFL and blogs about it at espnmilwaukee.com. I caught him at home in Virginia, watching his 2 children. As he proudly noted, his son was "Student of the Week." In between taking a steady stream of queries from a 7 and 3 year old, he shared these observations on NFL players:
"You feel a little larger than the world because you see things others don't. You think 'I have the best toys, I deserve the best toys.' You get lost in that. You're thrust into the limelight, catered to, everyone is bending over backwards for the team." Adding to that is the sheer excitement of being in the NFL. "Your entire youth you've thought about living the dream, you're finally able to live your dreams and other people's dreams."
But does the league do enough to keep guys on a moral track? Henderson says "From the moment you step in there there's a cram session to get yourself into a career," although he noted two problems: free agents are not invited to the rookie symposium and not many players take all of the advice to heart. For example, the NFL spends countless money and hours on financial planning yet, "Two years after they're done, most are flat broke."
The real morality must come from within. Jim Kelly once gave Henderson good advice. "Bring the party to you so you can control the atmosphere." If you do want to party, Henderson says "the league office will help set up bodyguards for any player, to help you feel comfortable in those environments." But Henderson wonders, "Why put yourself in situations like that? What I tell everybody is to make a plan. You're paid money and in the public eye and you have a responsibility. This is a publicly supported industry and therefore you have a role to the public. It's still the number one game in America, I don't know if there is a level of too high a responsibility. I struggle with guys who still don't realize- and I've blogged about it- what's going on with practicality and morality. You only have a small window of opportunity to be in this league."
What about Lawrence Taylor? When a player is out of the league, must he still adhere to the highest standards? Is that fair? Henderson: "I don't consider any player truly out of the game. When he returns to his community he's given a certain amount of respect because he was a professional athlete," therefore the responsibility lives on. Henderson noted a fender bender he was in recently. He had to watch his words and actions because he's still an ex-NFL player and could wind up on the front page of the paper. "Had I reacted, anyone with a cell phone could have put it on youtube."
As for Roethlisberger: "Yes, they were harsh on him but they needed to set a precedent. He's a good looking white guy. I hate to put the race issue on it but he's an A-list celebrity and a quarterback, who you can't touch. Black players would cry foul if (NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell) didn't react harshly to Roethlisberger. The commissioner is trying to protect the shield."
I wondered if the very nature of football- violence- helped fuel some of the problems athletes had away from the field, but Henderson felt that was a stereotype. "If a football player did it, oh it's because of violence. That's a negative stereotype I don't want associated with football. It shouldn't be associated with your job."
Henderson now mentors a few young players in the league. His words to them: "Remember your roots, if you do, you typically don't get yourself lost. Like Tiger said 'I lost track of my humble upbringing.' If I do fall I'm human but I get myself back on track. Hopefully coaches can convey what it's like to be a professional but it's your responsibility to walk a straight line while you're in this career. It's a short career."