The original question to Bart Scott was about whether the Ravens' offseason had a black cloud over it because of the pending court case against teammate Steve McNair, and the just-resolved case against B.J. Sams.
Scott, however, isn't the type to give simple answers. So his answer, last week at the Ravens' organized team activities in Owings Mills, led to a question of his own about the man in whose hands McNair's and Sams' fate rests, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
"Is he his own government?" Scott asked. "He can succeed the court of law?"
That does answer the original question, though. Yes, NFL players do worry that if a yearlong suspension can be slapped on a player who has yet to be charged in certain high-profile incidents or convicted in several others, anything is possible for them if they encounter legal problems of their own.
"It's tough, man," said Scott, coming off his first Pro Bowl trip. "It's like, if we're not sociable or real receptive to the fans because we don't want to put ourselves in a possibly bad situation because of something the fans might do, then in the fans' eyes and the NFL's eyes, we're bad for the league.
"But you can't put yourself in that environment, because anything can happen. It's lose-lose."
Specifically, a player can find trouble -- or, worse, trouble can find him -- and be punished with lost games or money, regardless of the severity of the infraction, a not-guilty verdict or the dropping or non-filing of charges. No one knows how the penalties work; meanwhile, cases are pending, minicamps have begun and training camp is just more than two months away.
And, worst of all, Scott says, the arbitrary decisions about a player and team's future are being made by one man.
"It's bull, man, it's bull," he said. "We've got a guy trying to make a name for himself. He's trying to put a stamp on [his tenure], and trying to do it early. He's trying to get a legacy."
It was just last fall that Scott stood near the same spot by the Ravens' practice field and pondered the danger that can befall a player merely minding his own business in a public place, who gets harassed or picked on by a fan feeling full of himself. At that time, he was talking about such a player getting seriously injured -- his ex-teammate Roderick Green stabbed at a Randallstown bowling alley, five Duquesne basketball players shot after a campus dance.
Now, if a player encounters that danger and as a result finds himself so much as "questioned" by police, as with many of the incidents involving Adam "Pacman" Jones, he can also find himself subject to a big hit by Goodell.
That is a definite exception to the idea, expressed in this space a week ago, that players ought to accept the consequences of poor judgment. It's fair to say that perfectly good judgment, not to mention positive court outcomes, can have extreme consequences, too.
Scott was merely echoing the unfairness many of his colleagues feel about that. Randallstown native Domonique Foxworth, now a Denver Broncos cornerback, voiced similar thoughts last month. Like Foxworth, Scott didn't disapprove of the idea that Jones needed to clean up his act, but of the way Goodell went about disciplining him.
McNair's driving under the influence case in Tennessee -- the one where he wasn't actually driving, of course -- is so much up in the air, not even Scott wanted to touch it. Of Sams, though, who was cleared last week of DUI charges filed last fall in Baltimore County, Scott said, "They said he was innocent. [But] whether you like it or not, perception is reality. So what's going to happen to him? [Goodell] has already set a precedent.
"He's doing what a lot of new businessmen do, put his stamp on things," Scott continued. "He wants to make the NFL model citizens, rule with an iron fist, and it seems like he doesn't want to have much of a transition period.
"I think he assumed with what he did with Pacman, it would just stop, but it didn't, did it? That's not how you stop it. You stop it with education and patience. Guys have to know what's at risk. But we know he has a $7 billion investment to protect; he doesn't want to tarnish the league's image in front of all the corporate sponsors and the people who pay the money."
Scott drew a comparison to Goodell's NBA counterpart, David Stern, and the dress code he instituted at the start of the 2005-06 regular season. It was a superficial act, Scott said, and it didn't appear to alter the league's image as much as intended.
"It's not about what clothes they're wearing. ... If the cameras weren't in their faces all the time, you'd never know what they were wearing getting off the bus anyway," he said. Goodell, he concluded, "is trying to do the same thing, but in a different way."
That thing -- one man being "his own government" -- can't be the best solution to the problem.
David Steele -- Points after
Correction: In last week's column, one candidate for the title of the most selfish athlete in sports was inadvertently omitted. The competition should have been between Roger Clemens, Kobe Bryant and Brett Favre.
Know why I hate the NBA? Because it bends the rules to favor its star players. Know why else I hate the NBA? Because it doesn't bend the rules to favor the star players I like to see.
Why is it the Mets have so many people linked to steroids (their former clubhouse boy, a bunch of their minor league pitchers) and they're pennant contenders, but the Orioles have so many people linked to steroids and they're headed toward a 10th straight losing season?
Here's what's really troubling about the whole Orioles-Nationals competition: By next year, the Nationals might also have a better ballpark.