Thursday, March 20, 2008

He was expendable


The Steelers told wide receiver Cedric Wilson today that they will no longer require his services. The dismissal came a day after Wilson was accused of punching his ex-girlfriend at a Pittsburgh-area restaurant. Your initial reaction might be to applaud the Steelers and team Chairman Dan Rooney, but don't praise them too soon. You see, the Steelers take the moral high ground on violence against women only when it suits the overall needs of the team. Cedric Wilson was the team's No. 4 receiver, a guy who caught, on average, about one ball a game for them last year and had one measly touchdown. He is easily replaced, whether by a cheap free agent or a lower-round draft choice. And, frankly, he was embarrassing the team. A few weeks ago, the same woman involved in the restaurant incident went ape-crap, armed herself and held police at bay at Wilson's home. Now this. But the Steelers were not so quick to act - heck, they didn't act at all - when two players who are much more important to the team's on-field success were accused of assaults on women. Last fall, in the midst of the season, running back Najeh Davenport (do a Google search sometime for the words "Davenport" and "closet") was arrested on domestic violence and other charges following an incident involving the mother of his 5-year-old son. The Steelers did nothing. The reason: Davenport was highly valuable to a team that was thin at the running back position, as evidenced by his play when Willie Parker later went down with an injury. The Steelers had another chance earlier this month to show their zero-tolerance policy on domestic violence, and they whiffed again. Linebacker James Harrison was charged with assaulting his girlfriend in her home. Police say the girlfriend, in fear of bodily harm, locked herself in a bedroom to call 911, but Harrison broke down the door, destroyed the cell phone and slapped the woman in the face. In fact, police say Harrison, when they caught up with him later, admitted busting through the door and assaulting the woman, who was left with red marks on her face. The Davenport case was a he said-she said type of affair, but surely the Steelers couldn't ignore an incident in which police say their player came right out and told them he smacked a female. Sure they could. Harrison is a star linebacker, voted the team's Most Valuable Player last year, and the Steelers have no one of his caliber to put into the position if they were to cut Harrison. Rooney tried to explain the double standard, telling the Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette that "we don't condone these things, we don't, but we do have to look at the circumstances." He told the P-G that Harrison was trying to take his son to be baptized when the fracas broke out. "He was doing something that was good," Rooney explained to Bouchette. So here's how I read the Steelers' policy on domestic abuse: If you're a scrub whom we can do without, we will not tolerate abuse of women. But under the right "circumstances" - like if you're a star linebacker and there's a religious ceremony involved - whacking a woman in the face is a forgivable offense. The Steelers should be ashamed, and fans with any shred of decency should refuse to support a team that takes such an inconsistent and self-serving approach to the abuse of women, but of course that's not going to happen, because they're "Our Stillers," and they can do no wrong.

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11 Comments:

Blogger Scott Beveridge said...

Violence against women is a major human rights issue across the globe. The U.S. sets a poor example for confronting the issue on so many levels.

March 20, 2008 at 8:48 PM  
Blogger Roger said...

This commentary is on target. Brant, what you said is what I would have said as an initial reaction to this story.

The Steelers have shown themselves to be two-faced about these matters. If they truly had an intolerance policy, then Davenport and Harrison would have been terminated. But, these two players are too much part of their personnel strategy. Wilson may have been close to the line of being outside their planning, so he took the axe.

Professional sports have become a paradox. What started out as an athletic adventure has rolled over into entertainment. The teams are appealing to the entertainment dollar, not the athletic dollar. Consider the huge merchandise sales, advertising and other non-athletic part of their program. I have to hand commendations to the NFL for their marketing plans -- it is has been very effective. They keep dribbling out pieces of their league 12 months per year (e.g. college combine, draft day, mini-camps). They do what they have to do to keep the NFL in the front of the public minds year-around.

But, how they manage themselves regarding player conduct is pathetic. The list of thugs gets longer and longer. Despite lip service about intolerance, little firm is ever done. The NFL has too much money to be made off these thugs. Further, their behaviors, either lack of civility, or criminal, keeps the NFL in the news all year.

Regrettably, what happens at the NFL level trickles down to the college level. The stories of college athletes having the same troubles, lack of civility and criminality, continues to populate the news.

And, to further the problem, the issues trickle down to high school. The emphasis on sports in high school is way over-exaggerated. Why? The path is obvious -- great high school career, means a clamor over colleges for their playing services. And, having great college careers, leads to a path at the professional level.

The issue boils down to money. There is too much money involved. Often the money finds its way into the hands of those who are least able to deal with an excess of money. Many of these athletes have been coddled for years, starting in high school. The message they have heard is they can do no wrong, as long as they can run fast, throw hard, hit better than somebody else. The incentive money provides motivates their play, but at the expense of character development. After having been told they can do nothing wrong, the bounds soon extend to that beyond the law, e.g. domestic violence. The behaviors manifest themselves in many ways, such as dog fighting, gambling, etc.

Now, having painted with a broad brush, let us not forget those who are part of the NFL, MLB, and other professional leagues, who have matured. They have grown themselves into fine examples of mature and exemplary behavior patterns. They show themselves to be upright citizens, put into positions of authority and leadership, and bring honor and dignity to themselves. They have shown that working their way through the maze of celebrity, high money, and mixing with unsavory characters is possible. These folks are to be commended.

While on the topic, the recent decisions of WPIAL regarding the after-game fight with Jannette and Central Catholic(?) proves the bureaucracy to be a sham. The WPIAL officials demonstrated themselves to be enablers of inappropriate behavior. Their five-point plan for remedy was a hoax (e.g. write a plan and discuss anger management with your players). WPIAL knew they had a showcase game with Jannette, and succumbed to the pressure of suspending the team. Their answer was a cop out. These kinds of decisions are part of the coddling that I discussed above.

March 21, 2008 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

This is why I don't watch the NFL anymore.

March 21, 2008 at 9:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Violence against women is wrong period. But the typical self loathing of the US setting a poor example is wrong minded. Where is the condemnation for the Islamic religion that by its nature is anti-women? Where is the problems of violence against women in most of the third-world? Comparing the US to the world shows a different picture than Mr. Beveridge would notice. It has been the hallmark of modern liberalism to condemn the US first, rather than look at the US compared to the world. The typical response is to point towards Europe, but Europe also has legalized prostitution in many nations, not a hallmark of pro-women's rights. Indepednent honest assessments have ranked the US very high in its efforts against racism and violence against women.
Those are ignored for sound bite comments created by general world outlooks rather than facts.

March 21, 2008 at 10:27 AM  
Blogger Amanda Gillooly said...

I think it's sad that Davenport and Harrison look like angels compared to, say, Ray Lewis. Or Randy Moss. Or Michael Irvin (but he found God so it's cool). Or O.J. Simpson. Sad indeed.

March 21, 2008 at 10:47 AM  
Blogger Dale Lolley said...

The Steelers did nothing in the Davenport incident because he told them he had done nothing wrong and she brought the charges against him out of spite. As is the case often times in these incidents, it's a he-said, she-said proposition.
I don't condone violence, period, but there are cases where the woman cries wolf.
To release Davenport - without his due process - would have been wrong.
As for Harrison, different employees are treated differently. No doubt.
He'll get a suspension from the league.
With Wilson, there was little doubt he did it. In fact, there were 50 or so witnesses. That and his already tenuous position with the team were enough to warrent his release.

March 21, 2008 at 6:22 PM  
Blogger Roger said...

Dale, the Wilson story seems to have changed. Now, she said the story was blown out of proportion, what was first said did not happen. So, there is doubt what happened.

If these folks would get their life together (e.g. Davenport, Wilson, both with children outside of marriage), put order into their lives with proper relationships, these incidents would not likely happen. The he said/she said wouldn't even be up for discussion. No, not every "proper relationship" works fine, but some folks don't want to take time to make it happen. The pattern of fathering children outside marriage seems to be a common theme, not only with these violent relationships, but other athletes as well. Actually, being an athlete is not required for these patterns to develop.

March 21, 2008 at 8:18 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

The NFL poster child for irresponsible behavior just might be Travis Henry, running back for the Denver Broncos. Just before last season, he was ordered to pay $3,000 a month and set up a $250,000 trust fund for a child he fathered out of wedlock. Hey, a lot of people have had that happen to them. Problem is, this was reportedly Mr. Henry's ninth child born out of wedlock with nine different women. Since he just signed a contract that guarantees him at least $12 million, he should be able to meet his responsibilities to his brood for a while, but what happens when the NFL money dries up? Denver surely knew, or should have known, about Henry's personal habits before they signed him to the lucrative deal. He also had a positive drug test in his past. But none of that mattered to the Broncos, because Henry can run really fast with a football tucked under his arm. It's a shame that NFL teams don't make more of an effort to hire solid citizens for their teams, but I guess sometimes the criminals are just better athletes. For a while there, the Cincinnati Bengals were running a virtual penal colony. They had 10 players arrested on criminal charges in just over a year. Their "shining light" was receiver Chris Henry, who was up on four criminal cases in his first two years in the league. Did the Bengals cut him? Hell, no. He has Randy Moss-like athletic skills. And that's obviously what's most important.

March 21, 2008 at 11:46 PM  
Blogger Roger said...

Brant, you are right about some others who have demonstrated themselves as bad characters.

We've done much bashing here, with only a hint of some good. LaBron James was in the news again (most points scored by a Cav). From what I've read, he has been a pretty steady character. He was taken from high school to the NBA, so was very young, with oodles of money, celebrity status, and great athletic achievements. All in all, he apparently has handled himself pretty well. I think I heard of one minor scrape with the law.

I don't know anything about how any of these folks manage their lives. However, I suspect he (or his family) surrounded him with some good counselors, those who could mentor him closely every step. At 18 years of age when entering the NBA, he was highly vulnerable to all kinds of "hangers-on." Does anybody know more about he has managed himself?

My point is to note kudos where they are apparently deserved. Maybe I'm too naive, and haven't picked up on some negative behaviors.

March 22, 2008 at 10:25 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

No, I think you're right. Guys like LeBron and Kevin Garnett, who also came straight out of high school, have been pretty much exemplary citizens, and good examples for young people, though there are other high schoolers who did not make such a great transition. The majority of players in all sports leagues are good people, but it's the leagues' refusals to adequately police the offenders that is the real problem here.

March 22, 2008 at 6:19 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

Roger, I was going to express the very same thoughts (although probably not as eloquently). Thanks for saving me the trouble!

I've said this before: college professors earn, what, maybe $100-150k per year on average? Yet college football and basketball coaches earn multi-million-dollar contractual salaries with buyout options and so on. It doesn't take a scholar to realize what our society deems more important.

One more thing: the NFL as an organization has redefined public relations and marketing. It is pure genius the way they have taken this sport to the lofty level it enjoys today...and will continue to enjoy.

March 23, 2008 at 7:55 AM  

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