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Sports & Fitness // Hot Air
Steve Murray

Violence A Major Problem For NFL

Members of slain Odin Lloyd’s family battle their emotions at Aaron Hernandez’s June 26 arraignment | AP photo

Commissioner Roger Goodell may not want to talk about it, but the NFL has an image problem. Since 2013 became official, 34 active roster members have been arrested, and not just on minor marijuana offenses.

Players have been involved in high-speed police chases, physical assaults on women, gun crimes, burglary, driving under the influence, child abuse and who knows what.

Last week alone, two players were arrested for the death of another – Aaron Hernandez for the alleged gangland-style murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd, and Ausar Walcott for attempted murder after he allegedly punched a man in the side of the head outside a New Jersey strip club. The victim, Derek Jones, remains in a medically induced coma.

We are still waiting on the NFL commissioner to say more than just the league will not deal with Hernandez, or Walcott, one would assume, until a team tries to sign either player. It seems safe to say that such transactions will never happen.

Even if the former John Mackey Award-winner is exonerated on all charges, he is far too toxic for anyone to sign. Walcott, who faces a lesser charge, may be employable if the courts rule in his favor.

Now is not the time for behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Players Union. Goodell must send a clear message to its players and teams owners that run-ins with the law will not be tolerated. In no ordinary business would such high-profile individuals be excused for such horrific behavior.

Let’s not kid ourselves – athletics and entertainment are very different businesses from their corporate cousins. The unique skills these people possess create a market that heavily favors the individual. If teams or production companies want to succeed, they are almost forced to put up with a certain level of outlandish behavior. Outlandish, but not criminal. This is where the line must be drawn.

The NFL cannot work in a vacuum. Dirtbag behavior rarely begins at the professional level. It gets its start in high school and continues in college, where the billion-dollar industry depends on keeping players playing regardless of the legal and social problems they may create.

Both the NFL and the NCAA must create a common system of investigation and enforcement for the athletes they employ. It’s not just disingenuous but dangerous for college coaches and administrators to pass off criminal behavior as simple youthful exuberance in need of guidance. No one else on campus is afforded such support.

A senior-year suspension in college should carry over into the player’s professional career, which would prevent some college athletes from being drafted. But so what? DUIs, weapons charges or any other convictions that put others in danger should be met with immediate removal of their athletic scholarship. Coaches or administrators who try to hide such actions should be fired.

Of course, the old adage of a few rotten apples applies, but the NFL cannot afford to shy away from statistics that continually show the league is leading its counterparts in the number of arrests. According to a MSN News article, the NFL is far outpacing the other leagues. The article reports six arrests of NBA players since July 2012, three MLB players and no one from the National Hockey League. For the most-serious of crimes, the NFL does even worse.

An ESPN tabulation lists 20 professional athletes who have been charged with murder, homicide or manslaughter since 1967. Of that number, 11 have come from NFL rosters. Boxing (Rubin Carter and Cesar Cedeno) is the only other sport with more than one.

The NFL has its mandatory rookie symposium, but it’s proved worthless. Whatever advice that’s being shared has fallen on deaf ears – as one would expect in a league that has proven time and again that talent trumps almost anything.

smurray@midweek.com Twitter @SteveMurray84

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