Notebook > Sports

Crime and punishment

Sports | A few star players pay a draft-day price for bad behavior off the field

Issue: "Opium wars," May 12, 2007

Depending on who you're asking, the NFL's new crackdown on off-the-field behavioral issues meant a lot on draft day. Or it meant nothing.

In the wake of harsh suspensions handed down to Tennessee defensive back Adam "Pacman" Jones and Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Henry for off-field criminal troubles, many expected the draft stock of players considered at risk of pulling the same shenanigans to plummet.

In some cases, it did. UNLV defensive back Eric Wright's talent made him perhaps the best cornerback on the draft board-often good enough to launch a player into the top five. But a rape charge that was later dropped contributed to Wright's fall to the second round where Cleveland scooped him up.

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New England seemed ready to take on troubled players. With the theory that the tight-knit Patriots roster can absorb high-risk players, New England traded a fourth-round pick to Oakland for malcontented receiver Randy Moss. Just two years ago, Moss had fetched a first-round pick and a starting linebacker in a trade.

But a trio of highly talented players tied together by allegations of marijuana use didn't seem harmed at all by the league's tightening scruples. Calvin Johnson (2nd overall), Gaines Adams (4th), and Amobi Okoye (10th) each admitted to trying marijuana on pre-draft questionnaires-a revelation that sparked controversy not only over whether the players' draft stock would sink (it didn't) but also whether someone should be held accountable for leaking that private information (they will, says NFL commissioner Roger Goodell).

Perhaps league executives considered marijuana experimentation less serious than rape charges. Or perhaps league general managers simply thought players honest enough not to lie about previous experimentation would also be responsible enough to take care of business in the NFL.

Around the Horn

BASEBALL: Questions about Cardinals reliever Josh Hancock's off-field behavior crept into newspapers just days after he died when he drove into the back of a stopped tow truck just past midnight on April 29. Witnesses told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Hancock could "barely put a sentence together" after a night of drinking, and police reports said marijuana had been found in his rented SUV. Hancock, 29, played an important role in the bullpen of last year's World Series champions and had a career 9-7 record in six seasons. The reliever's death left "a big hole that's going to be there," St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa said. "This is brutal to go through."

NASCAR: Race fans at Alabama's Talledega Superspeedway showered Jeff Gordon's car with beer cans and other litter as he crossed the finish line and drove toward victory lane after winning NASCAR's Aaron's 499. What hacked off certain fans willing to face arrest to pelt Gordon's car? Gordon's victory moved him ahead of Dale Earnhardt on the all-time victory list-an achievement that draws the ire of fans who already hated the California-born driver. Earnhardt's son had called on fans to throw toilet paper, not beer. They didn't listen.

BASEBALL: In previous years, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner might have handed skipper Joe Torre his walking papers by now. This year, the Boss reacted to the Yankees' 9-14 start with a letter of qualified support for Torre and general manager Brian Cashman. In the statement, Steinbrenner said he expected the Yankees to play better-even to win a World Series, though he didn't specify when.

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