Flags and fouls

National | Too many hot-shot athletes engage in unsportsmanlike conduct

Issue: "The tolerance police," Dec. 19, 1998

Pros and Cons
NFL players are hardly role models, according to Jeff Benedict and Don Yaeger in their new book Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL. Some 21 percent have been arrested or indicted for crimes ranging from rape and assault to carrying a weapon without a permit and possession of marijuana. That's 6 percent higher than the 15 percent of young men outside the NFL who have run afoul of the law, according to FBI statistics. Some players manipulate the judicial system as they've manipulated coaches awed by their athletic prowess. According to the book, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tim Barnett was twice arrested for assaulting his wife, and then (while his case was being appealed) raped a 14-year-old motel housekeeper. The Atlanta Falcons released defensive back Patrick Bates after he allegedly assaulted his then-pregnant girlfriend and then attacked again. (The Falcons released him, but after Mr. Bates pleaded guilty to reduced charges he signed with the Oakland Raiders.) Authors Benedict and Yaeger charge the NFL and its teams with caring more about winning games than keeping football from pretending that hoodlums-such as Minnesota Vikings linebacker Keith Henderson, sent to prison after sexually assaulting three women-are heroes. They also say that the conventional good self-esteem approach doesn't work for players who have money, adulation, and more, yet still behave like gangsters. "When an individual has demonstrated a pattern of run-ins with the law related to violence or drugs, he should not be permitted to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars, carry the mantle of a role model, and have the license to further disregard the law."
- Chris Stamper The hits keep on coming
New stories of athletes apparently disregarding the law emerged last month. Some concerned celebrities: Lawrence Taylor, a star with the New York Giants whose career ended in 1993 after he was suspended for drug abuse, was back in a drug rehabilitation program after being arrested for the second time in three years for possession of crack cocaine. Some involved unknowns: On Nov. 22, three freshman North Carolina State football players and three wrestlers were arrested and charged in connection with a fatal shooting. They allegedly broke into the home of a fellow student and attacked him. New revelations about the once known also sting. Former Arizona State basketball star Hedake Smith confessed in Sports Illustrated that in some games he had thrown up wild shots or played poor defense in order to get tens of thousands of dollars from gamblers who had wagered hundreds of thousands. But none of this is surprising at a time when gambling, drugs, and alcohol abuse are rampant. Darrell Green, the veteran cornerback of the Washington Redskins and a leader among football evangelicals, said, "How do you expect that in a society where we have all these problems, you wouldn't have them in sports, too?" But coaches can make the problem worse when they give talented athletes special breaks and make them believe they are above the ordinary rules. Many stars avoid prison but nevertheless act churlishly. Ryan Leaf, picked second in the 1998 NFL draft and now quarterbacking the San Diego Chargers, returned to his Washington State alma mater this fall to make a $200,000 donation to the school's athletic department. But one evening while in Pullman, Wash., he threw beer on two students, made obscene gestures to several others, and spoke condescendingly to the ordinary folks who were without his football glory. By night's end Mr. Leaf had gotten himself thrown out of two bars and banned from the convenience store. He told The Oregonian, "I don't care what other people think of me."
- Tracy Rose, Holly Davis, Zander Blunt, and Shu-Chiang Yong The shortest marriage?
Dennis Rodman, the sometimes-cross-dressing forward of the Chicago Bulls, is not a jailbird, but he showed again last month that he is of a different feather. On Nov. 14 he married Carmen Electra, a surgically enhanced former Playboy playmate. For the Las Vegas wedding Mr. Rodman donned a police uniform and brought in Elvis impersonators as witnesses. What they witnessed is now in dispute. The groom's wedding statement to the world was, "I love Carmen and am proud to be married to her." But nine days later Mr. Rodman filed for an annulment, citing his "unsound mind" at the time of the wedding-he "didn't have all his faculties about him" after a day of partying, a Rodman lawyer declared-and claiming that "fraud" had occurred. The filing listed Nov. 14, the wedding day, as also the date the couple separated. But Mr. Rodman has another legal matter with which to concern himself: Last month a cocktail waitress sued him for battery, assault, and other crimes allegedly committed when the "Worm," Mr. Rodman's nickname in basketball circles, jammed a $100 bill down her blouse and grabbed her.
-Marisela Maddox

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