What have we learned so far this offseason?
Well, Darren Sharper appears to be much more of a predator in the bedroom than he ever was in an NFL secondary. Jameis Winston apparently did no wrong in the eyes of Florida State law enforcement, despite the fact that they finally charged two of his buddies over that alleged rape back in December 2012.
And Ray Rice … he’s in love.
Sadly, abuse of women is nothing new in the NFL. And although it’s not a problem unique to pro football players — or athletes in general — the media megaphone amplifies everything that goes on with players and teams. The ensuing very public lack of discipline for celebrity offenders does nothing to help stem the epidemic of violence against women.
The courts hurry along athletes’ cases, if charges are even brought at all. The league and its teams rarely seem to discipline their players, often relying on the handy “We’ll let the case play out in the legal system first” until we’ve all forgotten about it. And the perpetrators find little reason to stop doing what they do.
In the wake of Jovan Belcher’s 2012 murder-suicide, Slate’s Justin Peters found that 21 of the NFL’s 32 teams had at least one player with a domestic violence or sexual assault charge on his record.
I’d love to say that I have some solution for this society-wide issue beyond teaching my son how to treat women and my daughters to stand up for themselves. But I don’t.
I’m no activist, though there are many others out there who can point you in the right direction if you’re moved to get involved.
But I am a dad, a husband and a fantasy football writer who has little use for scumbags even if the NFL continues to let them score touchdowns. Here are some guys I won’t be drafting in 2014 for just that reason:
Ray Rice, RB, Ravens
I already touched on this one, and his case should be familiar to anyone reading this.
Security cameras caught Rice dragging then-fiancee Janay Palmer from the elevator of a New Jersey casino in February. Police charged him with aggravated assault. Rice and Palmer married a day before the grand jury officially indicted him.
We haven’t heard much from Rice about the incident, but Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome told The Baltimore Sun in February, “Right now, I feel very good about his side of the story, but I also feel very good about what he has done since that to help himself to not allow himself to get in a situation like that again.”
How good could Rice’s side have sounded if he got indicted a month later? The only “situation” in which he looks OK to me is if Ms. Palmer passed out in that elevator because of something other than blunt-force trauma.
I don’t care if Rice trims down this offseason and plays great in camp. I have no use for him anymore.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers
In 2009, Andrea McNulty filed a lawsuit claiming that the Harrah’s casino at which she worked ignored her report of being sexually assaulted by Roethlisberger. She alleged that the casino president — reportedly a friend of Roethlisberger’s — told her, “most girls would feel lucky to get to have sex with someone like Ben Roethlisberger.”
That lawsuit settled out of court.
Then in 2010, a 20-year-old college student accused Roethlisberger of sexually assaulting her in a bar bathroom in Milledgeville, Ga. The star QB once again avoided criminal charges, but the NFL at least deemed this incident worth a four-game suspension to open the season.
Roethlisberger may be a married father at this point, but I still see an entitled meathead that I don’t ever care to encounter.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals
You might not have heard about this one before, and that’s part of the problem.
Back in December 2008, Angela Nazario — the mother of Fitzgerald’s son — secured a restraining order against the star receiver after accusing him of grabbing her by the hair and tossing her “across the room.” She also alleged that Fitzgerald “grabbed the back of my neck and slammed me down on the marble floor” when she tried to leave his house with their son.
I’ve seen no indication online that Fitzgerald faced any criminal charges in the incident. I also have no idea whether Nazario actually filed a civil suit. In fact, there’s surprisingly little in the mainstream media about such disturbing accusations against one of the NFL’s most respected players. Go ahead and Google “Larry Fitzgerald assault.” You’ll find more coverage about the media ignoring the case than you will about the charges themselves.
You might remember that Fitzgerald and the Cardinals were marching through the playoffs en route to a Super Bowl meeting with the Steelers that year. Yet despite the further enhancement of the NFL media spotlight that time of year, we all apparently only wanted to know about Larry Jr.’s relationship with his father. Do you think reporters would have afforded Ndamukong Suh the same treatment?
I obviously wasn’t at Fitzgerald’s house to witness the alleged incident. But you can bet that I’d be telling my story to anyone who would listen if someone wrongly accused me of domestic violence. All I can find from the Fitzgerald side was Senior saying, “She’s trying to get a lot of money.”
Daryl Washington, LB, Cardinals
I like to play my fantasy football with individual defensive players, and I’ll be avoiding some a-holes on that side of the ball, too.
First up, the young linebacker who pleaded guilty in March to aggravated assault charges after his ex-girlfriend — the mother of his daughter — told police that he grabbed her by the throat, shoved her down and broke her collarbone.
He faces sentencing in April, but the change in plea suggests an out-of-court deal with a lighter sentence. Expect another NFL suspension for Washington — he lost four games last year for violating the substance abuse policy — but that’s just not good enough.
Ahmad Brooks, LB, 49ers
Former Niners safety Donte Whitner said back in 2012 that coach Jim Harbaugh told the team, “If you put your hand on a woman, then you’re done in his book.” Apparently, though, that book doesn’t begin until you join the team.
How else can you explain the team continuing to start Brooks, whom the Bengals released in 2008 after he punched a woman in the face? At least Brooks is equal opportunity with his beatings, though. He also allegedly attacked a teammate just last June … and avoided criminal charges.
Will keeping these guys off your fantasy football team help any abuse victims? Of course not. I’m not preaching fantasy draft decisions as activism. This is about awareness.
Like it or not, all of these guys playing sports on TV and in your local stadium serve as role models to many people — especially kids. Some embrace that role. Most are relatively normal folks trying to do their jobs on a national stage. Some are bad people or at least guilty of bad things. You don’t need to shrug off those incidents just because the NFL and its teams decide to.
Fortunately, we can finish here with some examples on the positive side. Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr joined former Dallas greats Emmitt Smith and Roger Staubach at a “Men Against Abuse” rally in Dallas last March to combat the problem. Ravens defensive lineman Chris Canty spoke at a domestic violence awareness seminar in Baltimore last April and implored his peers to “stop being silent about this.” And Giants quarterback Eli Manning joined other athletes and sports celebrities in last summer’s “1 is 2 Many“ PSA put out by the White House.
Feel free to draft those guys if they make sense in your fantasy league … along with the many other players who treat women with the respect they deserve.