New Rule: Get Arrested And You’re Guilty

OK. So let me get this straight: aloof running back gets arrested while on a boat in Austin with his mother, his friends, and several female friends (all white, let’s note) and contests the police account, saying he was mistreated and abused. Last Saturday, he gets pulled over and arrested for DUI charges, but maintains that he passed a sobriety test and is innocent of the charges.

Without either of the charges being borne out, he is released by his employer. In what fucking world does this make any sort of sense whatsoever?

This is the world of the NFL, where you can lose your job even if you are completely innocent of any charges against you. Welcome to the real world of the NFL, Cedric Benson — the running back was released from the Bears after last weekend’s arrest, with GM Jerry Angelo expressing the franchise’s supposed frustration with the first-round pick.

Cedric displayed a pattern of behavior we will not tolerate. As I said this past weekend, you have to protect your job. Everyone in this organization is held accountable for their actions. When individual priorities overshadow team goals, we suffer the consequences as a team. Those who fail to understand the importance of ‘team’ will not play for the Chicago Bears.

Bears management needed an excuse to cut Benson. He has underperformed, but has not had the benefit of a well-put together O-line the past year or a quarterback that is any consistent threat in the passing game — as such, it meant he would probably get one more shot this year to show the form that made him a first round pick.

But voila, two arrests and no convictions are enough to throw him out the window. Just how an arrest without any form of conviction or basis was enough to get rid of Tank Johnson (I don’t mean the weapons charges, I mean the DUI afterwards that really wasn’t.) This is the world Roger Goodell has created and the standard he has set — and every other player in the league ought to be incensed (unless you are Jared Allen. now of the Vikings, which means you’re glad you got off easy last year in KC.)

If Benson pleaded guilty or no contest to either charge, it would be a different story. But as of right now, he believes both arrests are unjustified and is willing to challenge the matter in court. Would that the Bears be only that willing to allow due process to play out, but this is Lord Rog’s World, and frankly, it’s time Gene Upshaw and the NFLPA did something to exert some sort of check and balance on teams

The owners have handed the NFLPA a golden opportunity by deciding to drop out of the CBA for 2011.  Now Upshaw needs to prove his worth by giving the men he represents at least a chance at due process for off-the-field incidents.

Photo: Jim Prishing/Chicago Tribune

3 Responses

  1. I know this is kind of your hobby horse, but in this case you’re not being fair to ownership. NFL athletes have enough money to stretch out final adjudification of things like this until well into the regular season. Say that goes down, and then Benson is found guilty and subsequently suspended by the NFL for 4, 8, however-many games.

    Now you’re stuck bumping some guy up from the practice squad into the lineup in mid-season when you’re trying to put a playoff run together, or signing someone off the street (or possibly another team’s castoff) who doesn’t know the playbook. The alternative is handing Benson his walking papers, securing a replacement while you’re still in mini-camp, and giving that person a chance at a full camp to learn the playbook and develop rapport with the team.

    In what world does it make sense to give a player who: a) has demonstrated nearly zero enthusiasm for being on the team, b) is not well-liked by his teammates, c) “protected his interests” by holding out his rookie season and missing an entire camp, d) underperformed when he was finally given the starting job he pouted his way into, and e) has created nothing but bad press for the organization during the offseason since he was signed, more slack than any other public figure would enjoy in his place?

    When you’re a public figure, you’re on a very special gravy train that gives you opportunities for personal enrichment that are almost unimaginable for random schmoes. And when you’re a professional athlete, you’re also a paid spokesman for the product the league is selling — it’s right there in your contract. Jeopardize your position as the kind of spokesman that makes the organization look good, and you’ve jeopardized your position as an athlete. It’s not hard to understand, and every single pro knows what they’re getting into from their first meeting with an agent. Vanishingly few of them consider the terms extortionate or even unfair, because “stay out of trouble and we’ll make you rich” is a pretty damn good deal.

    I’m no fan of “character clauses” either — there’s a very long list of people and professions who are better suited as role models than athletes are — but Cedric Benson signed one and surely knows what they entail. As such, he doesn’t deserve either the Bears’ support or the benefit of the doubt just because a jury hasn’t delivered a verdict yet. He had a responsibility to protect his image from further damage, and it doesn’t take very long to come up with the idea of hiring a driver or taking a cab if you’re going to continue partying in public.

    Anything can happen once, but to quote a very old law, “What has happened twice will happen three times.” Benson is not up to the job of being an NFL athlete if he can’t handle the terms of the contract he signed. Goodell’s NFL is tough, but I can’t buy an argument that they’re not fair — they’ll grant you one fuck-up, if you can prove that experience has caused you to take your image as seriously as they do. But they won’t grant you two.

    And by the way, that goes for everybody, not just underperforming on-the-bubble “draft busts.” Notice what a quiet life Ray Lewis lives these days?

  2. Ajax, my problem is that Benson’s aloofness, insensitivity, and on-field production have no relation to these off the field incidents. If the Bears wanted to get rid of him because he wasn’t a good teammate and wasn’t performing, they should have cut him earlier and been done with it. They were willing to stand by him until this, and now they decide to dump him before any measure of legal guilt or innocence comes in.

    Why should they give him slack? Because the trade-off you implied about being made rich if one stays out of trouble ought to account for some goddamned form of due process. Just because you are a public figure, a professional athlete, shouldn’t mean your employer can drop you at a whim for charges that haven’t resulted in convictions.

    There actually is something in the CBA preventing this. It would be nice to see Upshaw take the league to task over it, but I suspect that’s too much to ask.

  3. If the Bears wanted to get rid of him because he wasn’t a good teammate and wasn’t performing, they should have cut him earlier and been done with it.

    There’s such a thing as a last straw. Maybe two arrests in five weeks wouldn’t have been the last straw if Benson had put up (Minnesota’s) Adrian Peterson numbers last year. Maybe then you’d be hearing more about the fact that the cases are still pending and that at least one of them has some serious questions surrounding it.

    But maybe not, because there are an awful lot of people in Chicago who think that Lovie Smith is too lenient and too willing to go to bat for players that haven’t earned it. And most of them were willing to pitch Benson over the side after the *first* arrest. And we’re not talking about a small minority of crusty old farts, either.

    So this isn’t Roger Goodell’s problem, it’s the problem of a fanbase that insists that every 18-22 year old athlete who expects to get paid for playing a game have the moral character of Jackie Robinson and the work ethic of Vince Lombardi.

    Regardless, Benson is not a guy that helps the team enough that you keep going out on a limb for him no matter how embarrassing he is. He’s a guy you give one more chance to prove himself after he’s failed to perform in his first season as a starter if and only if he demonstrates that he knows his job is at stake.

    Just because you are a public figure, a professional athlete, shouldn’t mean your employer can drop you at a whim for charges that haven’t resulted in convictions.

    It absolutely should. Because your image and your rap sheet are not the same thing, as O.J. Simpson will tell you. If you think differently, ask the high school teachers who get fired for the perfectly legal act of putting pictures of themselves in bikinis up on MySpace.

    There is no presumption of innocence in PR, and as a professional athlete, PR is your business. Due process is beside the point if you’re convicted in the court of public opinion, and the league and the athletes in its employ absolutely have to see it that way, because their image is what they sell. If their off-the-field behavior raises enough questions that they are no longer saleable commodities in the eyes of their customers, they can and will be replaced by somebody who is. That’s how public relations works. You sacrifice everything and everybody that you need to for public goodwill, starting with principle and moving outward from there.

    And to be honest, I have a hard time arguing that a guy prepared to waste an incredible opportunity by not being careful enough with his most important asset deserves to be defended on technicalities until the last dog dies. There are plenty of other kids out there who would crawl over broken glass and eat dog-doo for a chance to play halfback for the Chicago Bears.

    Has Benson been ill-used by the system? Maybe a little. But he wasn’t exactly shy about exploiting his negotiating position when he was Chicago’s hope for the future instead of its black sheep, either. So maybe it’s quite fair and just that what goes around comes around.

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