Scandal and Crime Aside, Football Is Back
September 5, 2011

College football kicked off last week, and the NFL season begins on Thursday. America's favorite game is back, but unfortunately, so are some of those who play it, and run it. The biggest off-season news in the college game was from the University of Miami, where a booster named Nevin Shapiro, who is in prison for his part in a 930 million-dollar Ponzi scheme, blew the whistle on the school for providing improper benefits to players and recruits. Those benefits included cash, prostitutes, and parties aboard a yacht. The biggest charge from Shapiro, however, is that coaches and administrators knew about it.

That investigation is still going on, and several current players have been suspended, but this seems to point out that things like this happen just about everywhere, and nobody seems to care. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel resigned after five players were caught selling their championship rings, for not only cash but also tattoos. Tressel is now an assistant coach in the NFL, and the players were suspended for five games, although one of them (quarterback Terrell Pryor) turned pro.

At least USC was banned from appearing in postseason games for two years, after an investigation finally concluded that the school provided improper benefits to Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. Bush had to return the trophy, but head coach Pete Carroll bolted town for the NFL before anything could happen to him.

But of all the recent scandals, my favorite has to be with Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. Newton's dad was pimping his son out to various schools, telling Mississippi State that Cam wouldn't go there for less than $150,000. This all came to light last season during Auburn's run for the national championship. Newton's father even admitted wrongdoing, but Newton was still ruled eligible because, in the NCAA's view, Newton had no knowledge of what his father was doing. Yeah, right. Maybe it was because a powerful school like Auburn was undefeated. Newton won the Heisman Trophy, and his father was even allowed to attend the ceremony. He decided not to at the last minute, citing the distraction it would cause. That was the only good decision the old man made. Newton is now in the NFL.

As long as you win, right?

And let's look at the National Football League. It's always fun to talk about some of the characters that make up that billion-dollar industry. Don't get me wrong, I like watching football as much as the next guy, but do we really need some of these people?

It was in the news this week that dog killer Michael Vick signed a 100-million dollar contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. It was less than a year ago that Vick was released from prison after serving 19 months of a 23-month sentence for running a dog fighting ring. I suppose you could argue that he did his time and deserved a second chance, but let's face it, would that happen if it was you at your job? Doubtful. For whatever it's worth, only about 30 million of the contract is guaranteed, and as of now, Vick is not legally allowed to own a dog. I've seen viewpoint letters and facebook posts expressing outrage, and saying that the whole Vick thing proves that animal abuse isn't taken seriously. But we all know it's about winning, and not the crime committed.

For example, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was charged with murder after two people were stabbed to death in Atlanta following the 2000 Super Bowl. Lewis pleaded to a lesser charge of obstruction of justice, and was sentenced to a year probation. He's also one of the biggest defensive stars in the NFL.

Okay, so legally Lewis didn't kill anyone, but Donte Stallworth did. Stallworth made a plea deal, and served 30 days in jail after driving drunk on his way home from a bar in Miami, when he struck and killed a man. Stallworth also agreed to an undisclosed financial settlement with the man's family. He is still in the NFL, with the Washington Redskins.

There are numerous other cases of thuggery. New York Jets wide receiver Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg and went to prison for two years (the charge was carrying a concealed weapon at a night club), Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson punched a couple of guys. He doesn't have to turn himself in until the Bengals have their week off during the season. How convenient. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of sexual assault twice, (he was suspended for six games), and there are countless stories of domestic abuse.

So how many times does someone have to get in trouble before they are kicked out of the league? Apparently eight is not enough. During the off season, there were reports that the Dallas Cowboys were interested in bringing back Adam “Pacman” Jones. Jones was arrested eight times between 2005-2008, mostly on charges of hitting strippers, getting in fights with his own body guards, or spitting on people. Twice, the league gave Jones a one-year suspension, and told him not to get in trouble again (and of course, he did).

The point of all of this (I guess), is that as long as you win, or bring in revenue, or help get ratings, the rest doesn't seem to matter. Fans really don't want to hear about either, so I doubt anyone is still reading this. Football is a violent game, but it doesn't take violent individuals to play it. If it did, I suppose the NFL could play their games in prison yards instead of 70,000-seat venues.

The Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders (of all teams) had a couple of mottos. “Just Win Baby” and “Commitment to Excellence”. It seems like the former is much more important than the latter is today's world.

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