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Football losing players to other sports and, yes, the computer


Football fans are looking for someone to blame for the criminal element in their sport, and they have settled on us -- soccer moms.

If we minivan mothers would let our precious little honor-roll babies play football, the theory goes, the National Football League might not be left with nothing but thugs to choose from.

If we didn't freak out every time a player was carted off the field in a neck brace, professional teams might not have to hire those burly nannies to keep their star players out of drug busts and bar fights.

The best and the brightest of American adolescence is playing soccer because their mommies are protecting a 10-year investment in rec leagues, travel teams, camps and clinics, the theory goes, and football, once the pinnacle of high school success, is getting what's left over.

We have become inured to the parade of drunken-driving arrests, drug busts, weapons charges and domestic violence cases involving professional football players.

Assault has become a favorite charge to lodge against them because of the possibility of a lucrative out-of-court settlement.

But Carolina Panther Rae Carruth faces the death penalty if convicted of ordering the hit on his pregnant girlfriend, and our own Ray Lewis of the Ravens stands accused in a knife fight that left two men dead in Atlanta.

And many of these guys offer up sad tales of disadvantaged youth as an explanation for the trouble they can't seem to avoid.

Is there a pattern here? Are all the middle-class boys with intact families and respectable SAT scores playing soccer in high school before abandoning sports for college and a career in Silicon Valley?

George Young says not. Now an executive with the National Football League, the former general manager of the New York Giants was a high school teacher and football coach at City College in Baltimore in the 1960s.

He thinks pro football's current crop of trouble-makers reflects society as a whole, not the fact that soccer moms have forbidden their little Eagle Scouts from playing the game.

"The people in sports today come from the society that exists today," Young says. "And I don't think we are losing as many athletes to soccer as people think."

Ernie Accorsi, former general manager of the Baltimore Colts who now holds the same position with the Giants, says football is losing talent to basketball, lacrosse, hockey, golf and "coaches who grab these kids early and say, 'If you play for me, you don't play anything else.' "

And, says Accorsi, America's best athletes might not be playing any sport at all.

"It's the damn computer," he says. "That's what we're competing against."

Sports has always been a ticket to better times. For Joe Namath, football was a way out of life in a steel mill. For Ray Lewis, it was the way off the Miami streets. Whether it is soccer moms who have two cars in the driveway, or single moms who have to work two jobs, the boys we send into the world bear our imprint, for good or ill.

Ravens owner Art Modell, testifying at Lewis' bail hearing, said he was deeply impressed when the 24-year-old said he planned to use some of his signing bonus to buy his mother a big house.

So, fellow soccer moms, we must get past our fear of fractures to the fifth cervical vertebrae and let our young gentlemen play football.

It looks like there's a new house in it for us.

Pub Date: 02/27/00

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