Arrests bring Colts, NFL to edge of deep abyss

July 3, 2013
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Little by little.

That’s how the erosion of good things happens. And before you know it, fertile soil turns into a dust bowl.

I’m not talking about farming here. So it goes in the world of professional sports.

Just ask the Indiana Pacers. Pacers owner Herb Simon, Pacers Sports and Entertainment President Jim Morris and basketball operations boss Larry Bird deserve a ton of credit for rebuilding from the post-brawl ashes. But it has been a lot more difficult to rebuild the Blue and Gold than it was to tear it down. And truth be told, the Pacers are still climbing out of the sinkhole the franchise fell into after a series of unseemly incidents involving the team’s players.

Two years of entertaining playoff basketball plus a ton of community involvement have helped the Pacers earn the community’s trust back.

The Indianapolis Colts, and the entire NFL along with them, are staring into the same chasm the Pacers were a few years back. It’s up to the Colts—players and management—to build a bridge and cross this divide or fall headlong into a pit of despair.

I know, the NFL is the pinnacle of U.S. professional sports. It’s a tremendous money-making machine with even small-market franchises like the Colts knocking down $40 million or more in profits each year.

But it’s not bulletproof. Little by little, one seemingly small misdeed on top of another, and the erosion begins.

This week, Colts safety Joe Lefeged marched into a Washington, D.C., courtroom wearing an orange jumpsuit. It’s not a pretty image. The 25-year-old was picked up last week on gun-related charges. Reportedly, a loaded gun and drugs were involved. The Colts so far have stayed mum on the matter, letting it play out in court before deciding what to do with Lefeged.

This is not an isolated incident. Lefeged’s arrest comes in the wake of the high-profile murder case involving New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.

I’m not about to say the Colts have a roster of criminals. Far from it. But neither is this the first legal dust-up involving a Colt in recent years.

This sort of thing is becoming an even bigger problem for the NFL. A comprehensive list is difficult to come by, but by most counts, 39 NFL players have been arrested this year. It’s fair to point out that’s less than 3 percent of all NFL players. Again, there are a lot of good men playing in the NFL. Unfortunately, there are some bad ones, too.

A few too many for the image of the NFL and teams like the Colts. There’s no way to get around it. Just looking at the list of players arrested since the lights went out on the most recent Super Bowl is enough to send shivers up a sports marketer's spine. These are the criminal allegations, unfortunately, that grab headlines.

Michael Boley, New York Giants (Feb. 8): child abuse in Alabama.

 Da’Quan Bowers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Feb. 18):  possession of firearm in New York City’s LaGuardia Airport.

Al Netter, San Francisco 49ers (Feb. 22): DUI in California.

Desmond Bryant, Cleveland Browns (Feb. 24): criminal mischief in Miami.

J’Marcus Webb, Chicago Bears (Feb. 24): possession of marijuana in Illinois.

Javarris Lee, Arizona Cardinals (March 7): failure to appear in court in Florida.

Quinton Carter, Denver Broncos (March 9): cheating at craps in Las Vegas.

Cody Grimm, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (March 10 and May 28): public intoxication twice in Virginia.

Evan Rodriguez, Chicago Bears (March 21 and May 31): resisting arrest and DUI  in Miami.

Trumaine Johnson, St. Louis Rams (March 22): DUI in Montana.

Brandon Barden, Tennessee Titans (March 23):  DUI in Georgia.

Amari Spivey, Detroit Lions (March 27): assault on girlfriend in Connecticut.

William Moore, Atlanta Falcons (April 18): simple battery in Atlanta.

Rolando McClain, Baltimore Ravens (April 22): disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in Alabama.

Ronnell Lewis, Detroit Lions (April 23): bar fighting in Oklahoma.

Quentin Groves, Cleveland Browns (April 24): solicitation of prostitute in Ohio.

Cliff Harris, New York Jets (May 2): possession of marijuana in New Jersey.

Claude Davis, New York Jets (May 2): possession of marijuana in New Jersey.

Daryl Washington, Arizona Cardinals (May 3): aggravated assault on ex-girlfriend in Arizona.

Armonty Bryant, Cleveland Browns (May 6): DUI in Oklahoma.

Titus Young, free agent (May 5, twice, and May 10): DUI, rearrested for trying to steal his impounded car, then a week later burglary in Michigan.

Mike Goodson, New York Jets (May 17): drugs and gun possession in New Jersey.

Joe Morgan, New Orleans Saints (May 29): DUI in Louisiana.

Pacman Jones, Cincinnati Bengals (June 11): assault after punching a woman in Cincinnati.

Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles (June 12): street racing and high-speed chase involving police.

Aaron Hernandez, New England Patriots (June 26): murder and gun charges in Massachusetts.

Ausar Walcott, Cleveland Browns (June 26): attempted murder in New Jersey.

Joe Lefeged, Indianapolis Colts (June 29): gun-related charges.

NFL team owners, general managers and scouts can’t be expected to screen out every potential problem player. But some of the guys making the police blotter have come with enough red flags to hold a parade at the Kremlin.

Hernandez is chief among those. And if a team with leadership as smart and savvy as the Patriots iswilling to take a gamble on a player like Hernandez, that says something about the NFL’s state of mind.

The Pacers learned the hard way that you can’t take a win-at-all-costs mentality, especially in this market. And Simon handed down the marching orders a few years back to fill the roster with not only guys who can play, but good-quality people. No exception. Bird has followed through on those orders, and it’s paid off.

In two months' time, Lefeged could be in training camp preparing for his third season with the Colts. I’m all for innocent until proven guilty. But that’s not the way it works in the court of public opinion. The truth is, innocent or guilty, the Colts’ image has already been dinged.

And at some point when those dings turn into a big dent, NFL and Colts fans may wonder whom they’re cheering for. They may wonder whose poster their child has on the wall. They may look at the list above and not like the answer staring back at them.

  • whateva
    it is amazing that the public, as a whole, has been trained by media to be "accepting", "supportive", "forgiving"..sorry...this is BS and you are one and have the world at your fingertips and you are an idiot for not realizing it...the sad thing about this whole country is that we are becoming more accepting of things our ancentors would not accept...i dont get it...there is no more room in this country for accepting unacceptable behavior...noone should accept this dumbass, tho...we will....
  • If they can play, someone will take a chance on them
    As you noted Anthony, the Patriots ignored the red flags others saw in Hernandez, or at least they decided the risk was worth the potential reward...your comment about the NFL state of mind is spot on. Jason Whitlock noted that many of today's athletes aspire to be gangsters or rappers, and have "street cred"...being an athlete isn't enough anymore. Bill Polian and Mike Brown (can you imagine the owner of the Bengals saying that Hernandez had too many question marks to consider drafting him?) both claimed they passed on him because of all the issues (of course, Polian drafted Rae Carruth in Carolina, and that didn't work out so well either...they will all take a flyer on a questionable guy at some point). The NFL is going to continue to have a marketing problem, and they deserve some of it...think about Ray Lewis, a few years ago accused of murder, copping a plea for a lesser obstruction charge where a man was murdered and no one was convicted (Lewis reportedly did make some sort of financial settlement with the victim's family). Fast forward to last year, when he was the NFL's poster child, the consummate hero on the Super Bowl champions, and this year he is going to be a well paid talking head on ESPN. Seriously, I believe in second chances, but really? Has everyone actually forgotten that, or it's ok because he's a great athlete? Our culture romanticizes bad guys, and maybe we always have...gangsters, drug dealers, bank robbers...sports heroes have always kind of been the antithesis of that, they've been the good guys, or at least we imagined them as such...but we don't know them at all really...Charles Barkley rightly pointed out a few years back that most athletes aren't worthy of hero worship, and that real heros are Dads, Moms, Firemen, etc...more and more of today's athletes seem to be proving his point. Good article Anthony...and I would encourage everyone to read Jason Whitlock's two pieces on the Hernandez saga...he hypothesizes some things there that are defintely good food for thought.
    • Real Content
      Congrats for again providing writing with real content. Would guess Vegas odds would be at least 3-1 against his being on the opening day roster. We are Chuckstrong and wish to continue our climb toward becoming the real "America's team."

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    1. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

    2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

    3. I agree with the other reader's comment about the chunky tomato soup. I found myself wanting a breadstick to dip into it. It tasted more like a marinara sauce; I couldn't eat it as a soup. In general, I liked the place... but doubt that I'll frequent it once the novelty wears off.

    4. The Indiana toll road used to have some of the cleanest bathrooms you could find on the road. After the lease they went downhill quickly. While not the grossest you'll see, they hover a bit below average. Am not sure if this is indicative of the entire deal or merely a portion of it. But the goals of anyone taking over the lease will always be at odds. The fewer repairs they make, the more money they earn since they have a virtual monopoly on travel from Cleveland to Chicago. So they only comply to satisfy the rules. It's hard to hand public works over to private enterprise. The incentives are misaligned. In true competition, you'd have multiple roads, each build by different companies motivated to make theirs more attractive. Working to attract customers is very different than working to maximize profit on people who have no choice but to choose your road. Of course, we all know two roads would be even more ridiculous.

    5. The State is in a perfect position. The consortium overpaid for leasing the toll road. Good for the State. The money they paid is being used across the State to upgrade roads and bridges and employ people at at time most of the country is scrambling to fund basic repairs. Good for the State. Indiana taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the toll roads to the tune of millions a year as we had for the last 20 years because the legislature did not have the guts to raise tolls. Good for the State. If the consortium fails, they either find another operator, acceptable to the State, to buy them out or the road gets turned back over to the State and we keep the Billions. Good for the State. Pat Bauer is no longer the Majority or Minority Leader of the House. Good for the State. Anyway you look at this, the State received billions of dollars for an assett the taxpayers were subsidizing, the State does not have to pay to maintain the road for 70 years. I am having trouble seeing the downside.