Players have themselves to blame for new policies

The Baltimore Sun

It's discouraging to see how many policies, rules, even laws, have to be put in place to save people from themselves.

In some ways, it's also refreshing. But that doesn't make it any less discouraging.

In a perfect world, several major league baseball teams would still allow players the traditional reward of a cold beer. Tennessee drivers wouldn't have to worry about the consequences of handing their car keys to someone else after a night of socializing.

And pro football players would not have to wonder, upon committing their first, or even second, indiscretion, whether their window of playing and earning money was about to close by a month, or even an entire year.

But that's life today, especially sporting life. Want to blame someone? Blame the people who ruined things for everybody else.

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock, for not getting the message soon enough after a narrow escape in a car crash and subsequent meetings with his bosses, instead getting so drunk that he quickly got into another crash, one he couldn't escape. Adam "Pacman" Jones, Chris Henry and their brethren, for being such repeat offenders and for being so oblivious to any repercussions that now, every NFL player is sweating out every traffic stop and nightclub shoving match.

And whichever drivers in Tennessee messed up so badly once upon a time that the state had to broaden the definition of "driving under the influence" to catch people, like the Ravens' Steve McNair, who aren't even driving.

There are few things more annoying than a group having to pay for a person's poor decisions. Everybody had to go through it in school - someone wouldn't stop chewing gum in class, so bringing gum to school was grounds for detention. If one person doesn't want to be held accountable, everybody else has to be.

It is annoying. It's also overdue.

Who hasn't gotten tired of that line of defense, either on behalf of some famous miscreant or by the miscreant - he or she is "only guilty of bad judgment"? No need for punishment or vilification. No laws were broken. No one was convicted of anything.

Well, bad judgment has its price, too. And some people with some clout are working diligently to set that price.

Like NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who has put his entire league on notice after dropping the gavel on the aforementioned Jones and the Cincinnati Bengals' Henry. The Chicago Bears' Tank Johnson, released from the joint yesterday after completing a sentence related to gun charges filed late last season, gets his day in Judge Roger's court this week.

The notorious Jones of the Tennessee Titans knows that, more now than he ever has. His status as not having been found guilty in court, or not even having been charged yet in the infamous February Las Vegas strip club incident, shouldn't matter as it relates to what the NFL is entitled to demand of him.

Besides, the normal laws of the land, as well as common sense, apparently remain foreign to Jones, as his choice of relaxation before his meeting with Goodell last month (a strip club) indicates.

Goodell should not have to apologize for coming down on Jones. And if McNair has to cough up a fine - and that's all very hazy, considering he hasn't even been to court yet and the entire code of conduct is still a work in progress - Goodell should not have to apologize for that, either.

While we're on that topic, recent revelations put Michael Vick in the same boat. The courts had better go way beyond exonerating Vick before Goodell lets him off with a wrist slap or less.

The good news is that, based on his public reaction so far, McNair seems to get it. Score one for maturity.

Yet if maturity were that commonplace, Jones' lawyers would not be able to use, as the basis of the appeal of his yearlong suspension, the 283 off-the-field "issues" experienced by NFL players since 2000. It's worth saying again: Paul Tagliabue dumping a mess like that into his successor's lap doesn't exactly enhance his Hall of Fame credentials.

Meanwhile, had responsible thought and action been the norm in the average clubhouse, the players for the Orioles, Washington Nationals, Cardinals and at least five other teams would not be deprived of their post-game brewskis. So far, Major League Baseball has resisted the call for a blanket ban - to save the players from themselves.

Woe to them, and us, if baseball does it. Not because we'd be a step closer to Big Brother watching over all. Because too many athletes created an environment that invited Big Brother in. Grown men - coddled, sheltered, uneducated and entitled as they may be - ought to be capable of making up their own minds without some authority presence having to make it up for them.

In order to make proper choices, to exercise good judgment, intelligent adults shouldn't have to be threatened with extinction of their careers, or their lives.

Except when they do have to be.

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