Nine men out

With Monday’s news that Johnathan Joseph was charged with possession of marijuana, the Cincinnati Bengals now sit astride the NFL standings for most player arrests in a nine-month period: nine. That’s an impressive 17% percent of the overall team roster.

I’m not positive, but I have to believe the Bengals, whose uniforms are ironically adorned with stripes, may hold an all-time single-season sports record for criminal misconduct and wrongdoing.

In response, the Bengals’ team management has issued several apologies during the season and PaulHelmet  Daugherty of the local Cincinnati Inquirer has even been supportive of the gridiron miscreants (i.e. "If I were a millionaire at age 22, I’d probably have acted like a damn fool too."). Doherty may have a point, but I think the Bengals’ problems are indicative of a much larger issue and need to be taken more seriously.

It seems to me the system is far too lenient with sports stars. The best players are treated like rock stars as they make their way through high school, college and pro ball. Actions, behaviors and comments that would not be tolerated in either the workplace or society in general are either overlooked or, worse, encouraged (I’m thinking here about the end zone celebrations and those maniacal post quarterback sack chest poundings and tauntings that are now S.O.P. at every game).

Then, there are the serious incidents involving drugs, spousal abuse, drive-by shootings and god knows what else. Most players receive slaps on the wrist and commentators wonder how the ‘absence’ of a key player or players will affect Sunday’s upcoming game.

For the good of the sport, not to mention its image and reputation, the NFL needs to enforce a much stricter code of ethics and behavior. I’d suspend a player for a full year if he’s arrested and found guilty of, say, burglary or illegal possession of drugs and weapons. And I’d permanently ban any player involved in actual physical violence.

It’s time we stopped making excuses and lowering our standards for professional athletes. There should be an accountability clause in every player’s contract spelling out the price he’ll pay for inappropriate behavior. If we don’t, the Bengals’ 2006-07 "nine players arrested" record will soon fall by the wayside and be superseded by other, even more thuggish teams in the future.

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