APRIL 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 4
Bruins enforcer changed the complexion of the NHL with his idiotic assault on Donald Brashear.
MARC CIAMPA, a native of St. Albert, Alberta, Canada is the staff sports writer for Renaissance Online Magazine. A student at the University of Alberta, Ciampa is the public relations coordinator for the St. Albert Saints and writes a weekly article in the Edmonton Sun on junior hockey during the winter. During the summer he runs the official Calgary Cannons website.
PETER S. CONRAD is a cartoonist and illustrator in Northern California.
The first thing that comes to mind when one is leafing through a newspaper these days is how the Sports section and the News section have become virtually indistinguishable.
Not a week goes by where you don't hear about a professional athlete who has murdered, been charged with breaking and entering, been caught for drug possession, arrested for spousal abuse, solicited a prostitute or simply caused an outright disturbance.
"I've been part of this league for 40 years and I just can't ever remember so many cases of a criminal nature," Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson said. "It's getting out of hand."
Cecil Collins of the Miami Dolphins is a millionaire. Still, that did not stop him from breaking into a neighbor's home to commit burglary. He remains in jail to this day because he has since violated his probation.
Kevin Stevens, a veteran winger with the New York Rangers, has had a storied career in the National Hockey League. Recently, however, all that came to a screeching halt as he was caught soliciting a prostitute and in possession of crack cocaine. He still has not returned to the NHL.
Dennis Rodman, since "retiring" from the Dallas Mavericks has caused a major disturbance in his neighborhood. Over the past couple of months, police have visited his house more than 30 times, responding to complaints about loud noise. Rodman has also been involved in many incidents throughout his career, including kicking a cameraman after getting ejected during a game.
Ed Belfour, the goalie who was arguably the MVP of the Dallas Stars during their 1999 Stanley Cup victory, was jailed recently after assaulting a police officer in the middle of the night while drunk. He reportedly offered to bribe the officer "one billion dollars" to drop the charges.
Ray Lewis, a veteran linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens, was on his way to the 2000 Pro Bowl but a week earlier he and some of his friends had a disagreement with another group of people. It turned deadly as Lewis' group pulled out firearms and killed two men.
Rae Carruth (right), a promising young star with the Carolina Panthers had gotten his girlfriend pregnant. Allegedly not wanting to pay her any child support, he set up a hit to have her killed while pregnant. Though she died from her injuries, thankfully the child's life was saved.
This horrifying epidemic begs the question, why? Why is it that professional athletes constantly find themselves in these positions when they are supposed to be role models for the youth of North America?
One common explanation is standard among NFL executives: "We are simply a microcosm of society."
That explanation falls short, however. If the NFL (population 700) were a microcosm of the United States (population 300 million), then the U.S. would have had one million murders over the past year and tens of millions of convicted offenders. While crime is a definite problem in the United States, I don't believe it has reached those extremes.
As a further example, the metropolitan area of New York City had just over 900 murders last year with a population of 12 million. That would balloon to an astonishing 33,000 murders if the NFL was indeed a true "microcosm."
Now that it has been established that a real problem does exist with extreme, and unnecessary, violence in professional sports, the question of why still needs to be answered.
"When players come into the league, they're very young. Many are African-Americans from single-parent families and economically deprived communities,"' said Harold Henderson, the NFL's director of labor relations, who himself is an African-American. "It's a real transition issue for them."
Psychologist Lew Lyon shared similar sentiments. "For some players, you get all that money and you're like a time-bomb waiting to go off," he said. "You grow up getting special treatment because you're an athlete, then you get millions of dollars thrown at you. Shady people gravitate toward money."
So if a problem does indeed exists, logically there should be a solution as well. Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polan has a few ideas on how the NFL can clean up its act off the field. "You can't legislate good behavior anywhere in society," he said. "What you can do is penalize bad behavior."
The Bills and Colts, while rivals on the field agree that something must be done about the problems off the field. "Because of the acceleration of these cases, the league has to take a harder approach. We've been far too soft," said Ralph Wilson.
Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga, whose team drafted Cecil Collins -- the second-year running back who remains in jail for burglary and breaking probation -- agreed with Polan and Wilson but stressed a more long-term solution was needed.
"Cecil was a little different case (than Lewis). He had a history," Huizenga stated during recent NFL league meetings to discuss the situation of off-field violence in the league. "But there are a lot of guys who are in trouble who have never had a history. Unfortunately, I think we're going to see that in the future. You have to do everything you can to avoid that and the best way to avoid it, obviously, is to deal with past performance.
"Yeah, we can just not hire them.
"If there's a bad past, I don't want to go there," said Huizenga, whose team released Collins upon hearing of his predicament. "I'd rather take a chance on a young guy that hasn't had a problem."
That solution just might be the best one: If you have a criminal record, you can't be drafted. If you get arrested and convicted, for any reason, while playing for an NFL -- or any professional sports -- team you should no longer be eligible to play in the league.
Perhaps then, and only then, professional athletes can become our heroes once again.
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ILLUSTRATION: by Peter S. Conrad for Renaissance Online Magazine