Is football talent more important than a player's character?
Does a player's ability, or potential ability, on the field supercede his past history off the field?
In the Canadian Football League, and the National Football League, the answer is a clear yes. Just in a casual discussion with my associates at TSN.ca, we came up with a dozen players who broke the law in some way, but played in the CFL. Some, just a training camp here and there and others as established starters; the majority did not play for very long.
One of the reasons that I follow the Canadian football game is the tradition. The fact that it is Canadian and because the majority of the players are good people. As always, it is the minority that taint the majority. Deviant human behaviour, for some oddball reason, is more entertaining to discuss than a high moral standing.
For me, if I have a player of controversy, I divide it into two categories. Did the player's action hurt himself only, or did it involve other people? Ricky Williams has a problem that he needs to put himself, by choice, in an altered state of consciousness to enjoy life. He is hurting himself more than anyone else. Will he ever grow out of his dependency? I doubt it. Yes, it affects the Miami Dolphins football team and Williams' family but, in the end, Williams needs to grow up and take responsibility for his opportunity, a controllable issue.
Now, if a player has an off-field violence problem, that is another problem because it is based on a temper issue. If that violence is against women or anyone of limited physical ability, then I truly question why a football coach would want that history on his team. Beating people up on the football field is fine. Beating people up off the field psychologically scars the victim for a long time. There is something wrong with a person who can't walk away from another person that has no chance in a fight. That type of person I do not want on my team.
The person who has an alcohol or drug dependency should be given a second chance but, if it influences others, then the benefits of the majority outweigh the individual all the time.
Don't think coaches don't know. They do. They see players every day and know who was out the night before, and who is out the night before all the time.
The purpose of the off-season in football is to collect all the football talent you can find and often the talent overrides any other evaluation. A player's ability to play is the first consideration; pretty much everything else is rationalized away. The only other word that compares with talent is dependability. A player who always shows up, improves, prepares, plays, evaluates and then begins to improve again. These players, collectively have the 10-and-15 year careers and those are the players are the reason that teams consistently win.
Violence against people? No thanks. Drugs and alcohol that influence others? No thanks. Individual problem that shows a willingness to change? Well maybe, leaning to yes.
Football players are not angels, but the same goes for basketball, baseball and hockey, and in many other occupations.
So, if you are hurting yourself, you deserve a second chance. If you're taking others down as you go down, then you don't.