Nine years ago, a man with an anger problem went flying into the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills, wailing and hacking at everyone in his sight, all because someone threw a plastic cup at him.
The reverberations from the Ron Artest melee were far-reaching for the NBA, which was vilified as a league full of thugs and miscreants, tatted-up morons who’d be in jail if they couldn’t dribble a basketball.
Fans swore off of pro basketball, and there was a Paula Deen-sized helping racism being served in the entire process. Suspensions got lengthier, technical fouls became easier to come by, and commissioner David Stern instituted a new dress code.
It took years for the NBA to recover.
So why does the NFL get off scot-free when its players behave badly?
Why isn’t the NFL under the same intense public microscope, when by all accounts, the NFL beats all you ever saw, been in trouble with the law since the day it was born?
It’s been 145 days since Super Bowl XLVII. In that time, 28 NFL players have been arrested.
Here is the list of charges they’ve faced or are facing:
Driving without a license.
Breaking and entering.
Possession of marijuana.
Failure to appear in court.
Possession of marijuana.
Illegal possession of a firearm.
Felony domestic violence.
Carrying a gun at an airport.
Giving a false name to police.
Illegally tinted windows.
Illegal Drag racing.
Possession of illegal firearms.
Violation of probation.
Yes, some of the arrested got off and yes, some of the charges were dropped. It’s also true that the NFL has the biggest roster size and thus your favorite football team has a much greater chance to employ a criminal.
But if this many players were arrested in baseball, there’d be a march on Washington and a Town Hall series on ESPN featuring a screeching Mike Lupica. (Not that there’s any other kind).
Football is the most brutal of all the major American sports, and it invites mean streaks and tough guys, calling on them to inflict pain and fear into other human beings on a regular basis. It’s about being big and bad, and being a criminal doesn’t necessary conflict with a linebacker’s job description.
Maybe we expect football players to be savage, menacing beasts. Maybe their helmets help us to separate the players we cheer for from the people they are off the field. But why do we continue to support the criminals who line up for our teams on Sundays?
Fans lost their minds when Ron Artest went into the stands that night in Detroit. But that was nothing compared to what some of the NFL’s worst people have done.
We know about Aaron Hernandez.
But let’s not forget about Kansas City Chiefs Jovan Belcher linebacker killed his wife and then shot himself in the Chiefs’ parking lot.
Or former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth, who conspired to murder his pregnant girlfriend and left their unborn child to die. He now has cerebral palsy and lives with his grandmother.
Or, Dante Stallworth, who killed a man with his car after drinking and driving one night in 2009.
To his credit, commissioner Roger Goodell has instituted a strict code of conduct and has enforced lengthy suspensions and levied heavy fines on those who run so abhorrently away from the law.
But when is the NFL going to take more public heat for its players’ transgressions?
When are victims going to mean more to us than victories?