Players Behaving Badly

Saturday, June 2, 2012.  Eden Prairie, Minnesota.  Right around 3:00 AM.  Police are called to a report of an intoxicated driver in the drive thru lane at McDonald’s.  He is questioned by police, refuses a breathalyzer, is arrested and charged with second degree driving while intoxicated and a third degree charge with an aggravating factor of one previous DWI in the last ten years.  He is Jerome Felton, signed in March to a one year $700,000 contract by the Minnesota Vikings.  Felton is the favored starting fullback going into training camp.  He has played previously with the Lions, Panthers, and Colts.  According to the NFL Arrest Database, the Vikings have nine arrests since the start of 2011 (three on impaired driving).  The team offers a car service to players to avoid such incidents.

Sunday, June 3, 2012.  Just after 3:00 AM.  Stillwater, Oklahoma.  Oklahoma State star wide receiver, Justin Blackmon is pulled over for driving 60 MPH in a 35 MPH zone and veering into oncoming traffic.  A breathalyzer test measures his blood alcohol at three times the legal limit.  He is arrested and charged with aggravated driving under the influence.  He was also charged with DUI in 2010.  Blackmon was the fifth pick in the April 26, 2012 NFL draft and the number one pick for the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team desperately trying to rebuild and recover from a streak of off the field player incidents themselves.  The Jaguars traded up to get Blackmon, giving up their fourth round pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It’s hard to believe incidents like this continue, especially multiple incidents in a weekend.  And aside from the fact that they are role models (though sometimes reluctant), these are professional athletes.  They are paid millions of dollars to take care of themselves, perform, and compete at a high level.  The NFL and its 32 teams have stressed zero tolerance, educated, and penalized against this type of behavior.  And yet, it continues.

Unsigned rookie Justin Blackmon appeared at a press conference with his Jacksonville Jaguars Coach Mike Mularkey on Wednesday, three days after his arrest.  Blackmon apologized for the incident, calling it bad judgement.  He claims he is done drinking “for right now,” but can’t promise that won’t change ten years down the road.  (Huge red flag by the way and wreaks of denial!)  He will likely lose some of his signing bonus, and more may be deferred.  Blackmon has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The Vikings’ Felton has yet to comment on his arrest.  The team has only responded that they are “aware” of the situation and gathering more information.  The Minnesota legislature just passed a new stadium bill that will invest up to a billion dollars into a new home for the team, half of it publicly funded.  Polls showed most Minnesota residents were against funding the new stadium.

One weekend, two players, two incidents.  In the NFL, as in life, you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help himself.  While it’s concerning that both have prior issues, it is possible that one or both of these men will learn from their mistake and help others to do the same.  And let’s hope they do…before they squander the opportunity of a lifetime, or cost someone else theirs.  Because unlike the NFL, sometimes in life there are no second chances.