Character means very little in the NFL


Twenty-four states in our country use some form of the Three Strikes Law to prosecute criminals. In the NFL, it usually takes that many incidents for a guy to pop up on anyone’s radar. Until then, players are just labeled as having “character issues” while owners turn their heads and pray no one gets killed.

The greatest farce in sports is that moral makeup matters. It doesn’t. At least not initially. A team won’t give up on a player capable of producing on the field until he’s exhausted the use of his get-out-of-jail-free card, the pass every athlete with any kind of ability receives the minute he goes pro (and usually, long before that).

Even when one franchise decides to sever ties with a player, another one will bite the bullet. They don’t see felons; they see finds. Bargains. That’s why the New York Jets were right there to offer a fifth round pick to Pittsburgh in exchange for Santonio Holmes this week. Holmes, who has admitted to selling drugs as a teenager, has been arrested three times since entering the league in 2006 and was only dealt following accusations that he threw a glass at a woman in an Orlando nightclub in March. Following the trade, the NFL suspended him four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

Holmes isn’t the first player with off-field issues the Jets have acquired this off-season. Last month, the team sent a third round pick in 2011 to San Diego for Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie, who would be even money to get the Virgin Mary pregnant if he were alone in a room with her, has seven children by six women in five different states.

It should be noted that the Jets will be featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series during training camp this year. Maybe the goal is to produce a reality show with more drama than “Jersey Shore.”

Or maybe they just don’t care.

Character flaws aside, the Jets recent additions will almost certainly make the team a trendy pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this season. Holmes will return from suspension to join Braylon Edwards (currently facing assault charges) and Jerricho Cotchery to make up one of the top receiving corps’ in the league. Comartie will be a major contributor in what might already have been the best defense in the league.

Why should it matter if the team is on track to become New York’s sixth crime family by the time the season opens? Winning trumps all.

Of course, the Jets aren’t the only team following that motto. The Steelers may have had enough of Holmes, but it’s clear that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger still has a few swipes left on his get-out-of-jail free card.

Because they have a crush on the Steelers’ do it right persona, some media members decided that the Holmes trade was supposed to serve as some kind of message to Roethlisberger. False. A message to Roethlisberger would be to suspend him even before Commissioner Roger Goodell got involved. Make it clear that if his name so much as appears in the news for anything other than football, his career in Pittsburgh would be over.

That didn’t happen because Big Ben is still worth big bucks in the eyes of the Rooney family.

Now he’ll get yet another chance to correct his behavior.
And that, as we head into the NFL draft, will be the lasting message to everyone entering the league. As long as you can get it done on the field, you can do what you want off it.

It takes an awful lot to strike out in the NFL.


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