Carroll County Times

Commentary: 'He may be a jerk, but he's our jerk'

I was talking to a Washington Redskins fan this week about the DeSean Jackson signing when I couldn't resist mentioning some of the rumors about his off-field proclivities.

"I don't care what he does off the field," the fan said, "as long as he scores touchdowns."

Of course. It doesn't matter what a guy wears during the week - even gang colors - as long as he's wearing burgundy & gold colors on Sundays.

This is the essence of being a sports fan. No matter how a guy is perceived before he pulls on your team's jersey, he gets a fresh start. The feeling is, "He may be a jerk, but he's our jerk."

So baseball fans across the nation may have watched in dismay the highlights of Milwaukee Brewers fans giving admitted steroid user - not to mention notorious liar - Ryan Braun a pair of warm and loud standing ovations on Opening Day.

Many of those same fans let out a loud "Cruuuuuuuz!" after what turned out to be a game-winning home run on Opening Day at Camden Yards by new Baltimore Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz, whose 2013 season ended 50 games early because of a performance-enhancing drug penalty.

In the stadium next door this fall, it'll be interesting to hear the reception given to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice by a fan base that has always taken significant umbrage at the violence to women allegedly perpetrated by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The guess here is the reception will be warm and loud, much like Braun's. Sports fans are a forgiving bunch.

But let's not be naive. That forgiveness is directly tied to performance. So if No. 27 is averaging 2.7 yards per carry in Week 5, suddenly the calls to get rid of the guy charged with assaulting his then-fiancee, now-wife will get louder.

This is not some major change that is tied to society's supposed ever-declining values and morals.

Orioles fans hated Reggie Jackson. Until he got traded to Baltimore. They hated Albert Belle. Until he signed with the Birds.

Ravens fans would gladly have welcomed any of their most reviled opponents, from Hines Ward to James Harrison to Tom Brady, if any of them had donned the purple.

But those listed above were merely vilified because of their uniform color.

What about players who commit crimes or cheat the game or simply do things that "role models" shouldn't do?

The high moral ground takes a backseat to self interest for fans and those who build teams roughly, oh, 100 percent of the time.

Every NFL personnel guy will mention in the weeks leading up to the draft that they're looking for "high character" guys.

But it's a sliding scale. The lower a player's 40 time and the higher his number of bench-press repetitions, the less his college indiscretions matter.

And a Pro Bowl player can do just about anything and still get a job.

If O.J. Simpson had been 20 years younger, he'd have run out of the courtroom and onto the practice field in much the same way he used to run through defenses. And airports.

And if Aaron Hernandez somehow beats his charges, there will surely be a team rationalizing his behavior because of how badly it needs a tight end.

DeSean Jackson might be a model citizen whose character was assassinated by a team using a smokescreen for a salary dump. Or he might be a bad guy who will turn into yet another "cautionary tale" about the supposed importance of character.

Let's face it, all that really matters is how many touchdowns he catches. For fans, future potential trumps past impropriety every time.