Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Yeah, what he said

I know I like to bust up Mark Madden here from time to time (OK, almost all of the time), but once or twice a year he writes something that actually makes sense -- and last week's column was proof.

It concerns the NFL's handling of Jamal Lewis. Specifically, what should Lewis' punishment be from his employers should he plea bargain (the article was written before Lewis actually decided to plea to four months in prison).

The credibility and integrity of the NFL will be at stake if...Baltimore running back Jamal Lewis strikes a plea bargain to conclude his drug conspiracy charges.

Lewis is a marquee player. He may be the best back in the league. Lewis puts butts in seats, sells merchandise and makes people turn on the television. He is not a player the NFL wants to sideline.

But this isn't just a little pot, or even a lot of pot. This is cocaine trafficking...By pleading out, Lewis will be admitting to some degree of complicity in selling coke. There's no way around that fact.

Lewis has already tested positive twice under the NFL's substance abuse program. He previously served a four-game suspension, albeit while he was injured.

Lewis will reportedly serve between four and six months under the terms of his plea. That time may be split between jail and a halfway house. His sentence will begin after the NFL season.

Why wait?
Um, good question. It's not clear to me why someone who plea bargains a felony drug charge can continue to work, and then serve out his sentence during his vacation. How many other people involved in plea bargains get that option? If they did, I'm guessing there'd be a lot more crime.

Last week on Outside the Lines, Cowboy safety, Darren Woodson says that football players are a fraternity, and for the NFL to punish a player after he's already been punished by the criminal justice system is unfair. His point (as far as I could tell) was that if a player convicted of a crime is also alienated from his teammates, who then does he have to turn to (how about his drug dealer -- just a thought)?

Um, Darren, tell that to the family victimized by Leonard Little driving drunk for the 30th time. And even though no one was directly victimized as a result of Lewis' actions, he still should be held responsible. Let me put it this way, if you're Joe Average who goes to work everyday, and you're arrested and convicted of selling cocaine, what are the chances that you don't lose your job? In fact, I'm guessing there'd be more outrage if Mr. Average was actually allowed to return to work after completing his prison sentence.

Madden continues:

Lewis is arguably the NFL's biggest drug offender ever, pro football's version of Tony Montana. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue needs to put the hammer down and kick Lewis out of the NFL for the rest of the season. Given his prior offenses, an eight-game ban would seem a bare minimum.

The arguments for cutting Lewis a break are weak. True, the charges against Lewis are based on things that occurred before he started his pro career.

But that doesn't matter to the government. It shouldn't matter to the NFL.
Another solid point. Who exactly determined that two games would be sufficient punishment for a repeat, repeat offender? And how exactly are two game checks and a fine punishment? A monetary fine is punishment if it's some noticeable proportion of your salary. I have a sneaking suspicion that Lewis will still be able to pay his bills (and maybe even buy some coke) after this is all over.

I'm not sold on the idea that athletes are role models whether they like it or not. But kids shouldn't be able to watch TV and see a coke dealer gain 100 yards. What can mom and dad say? "He did that before he played for the Ravens, dear." Kids will see blow as a gateway drug. A gateway to the NFL, that is.
Yep. I've known a couple of dopes from college who've had job offers rescinded after the company found out about some previously unmentioned run-ins with the law. So to say that "Lewis did all this before he signed a contract so it doesn't apply" is bogus. Madden finishes strong with the following observations:

If the NFL suspends Lewis for the balance of the year, he can go straight to jail. The sooner it starts, the sooner it's over. The NFL will have done the right thing in very visible fashion, and the situation goes away as quickly and painlessly as possible.

It's what's best for everyone but Lewis. It's even what's best for the Ravens, though that might not show up in the won-lost column.

If Lewis escapes unpunished (or with minimal discipline), it delivers a bad message. Say a college football player is desperate for money. He might get involved in some unsavory enterprise, and why not? He gets a clean slate when he joins the NFL. Meanwhile, parents have to explain to children that eating right, practicing and working out made Lewis an All-Pro, not yayo.

"The first line [or pill, or joint] is free." That's a tactic used by pushers since the dawn of illicit drugs.

The NFL needs to show, however, that when it comes to a matter this serious, you've got to pay.
Only something as inane as this whole circus act could cause me to side with Madden. But I really can't disagree with a word he's written. The two-game suspension is a joke; and the fact that Lewis can serve his sentence during vacation is a bigger joke; and the biggest joke of all is having Ray Lewis tell Jamal Lewis during the Monday Night drubbing a few weeks ago to, "put this case on your shoulders...like I did with mine...and take out on the field."

Huh? What the hell does that mean? And all respect Ray, killing someone and making a call about selling coke are a little different. But not different enough that Jamal Lewis should be allowed to serve out his sentence at his leisure. The NFL may be the best run league in the country, but I think they dropped the ball on this one.