The message the NFL dispatched this week when it reinstated wayward defensive end Dexter Manley is officially open to interpretation. Was it the right message or the wrong lesson for America's young athlete? Does it condone drug abuse or extol the rehabilitation process?
Calvin Hill listens to the cynics who want Manley banned for life, and immediately reaches for a bottom line perspective.
"There are those people who want to banish Dexter by virtue of the fact he's used [drugs]," Hill said yesterday. "To me, that's the wrong message. You don't throw away people, especially if they have paid for their mistakes. And I think Dexter has paid."
Count Hill among the compassionate souls who want to see Manley, the erstwhile Washington Redskins' star, back on his feet and out of cocaine's wicked web. Hill is a former NFL star himself with the Redskins, Cowboys and Browns. He knows the dangerous road Manley has traveled. At the end of his career, Hill helped launch the Inner Circle in Cleveland to combat the Browns' growing drug problem. Since joining the Orioles as a vice president, Hill has taken an active consultants' role with the Oakview Treatment Center in Ellicott City.
And it is Hill's belief that the real message in Manley's reinstatement is one of hope for the person who needs it most -- the recovering addict.
"My sense is you've got to treat it like these people are sick, not like they're bad," Hill said. "Certainly there is accountability and people are responsible for their actions. One of the consequences for his using [drugs] is he was suspended and lost a great deal of money, suffered a great deal of public humiliation. He wore that scarlet 'A' on his chest for a year and will carry it the rest of his life.
"You hear a lot about role models . . . The fact he has been sober for a year, the fact he is working in a quality aftercare program, the fact the NFL insists he continue to work in an aftercare program means he can be transformed to a hope model for millions of those recovering from addiction. And he can also be a hope model for all the people who have the problem and don't know what to do."
It is also Hill's belief that the emphasis should be on prevention, not punishment. Until society conducts a full-scale educational program in today's classrooms, Hill said, society isn't doing enough.
Tom Brennan, an administrator at Oakview, agreed with Hill. He doesn't have any problem with the NFL reinstating Manley, a three-time offender who spent the past year learning the ropes of recovery. But Brennan painted a dark, discouraging picture over the way in which society is dealing with the drug crisis.
"In my opinion, we're worse off than ever," Brennan said. "If you're talking about the war on drugs, look at the treatment facilities around the country that are being closed down and the programs that are being cut. I hate to say it, but we're losing the war.
"We have to start educating at the kindergarten level, and it'll be a 10- to 15-year time frame before we see results. We didn't get here overnight, we're not going to get out of it overnight. What aggravates me is that what we're seeing now is just rhetoric. The country is looking for a short-term solution and there is none."
Manley, one of the NFL's most feared pass rushers as a Redskin, faces considerable odds in regaining his former status. At 32, he was deemed dispensable by the Redskins and unceremoniously waived. Hill said Manley can cope as long as he adheres to the aftercare program.
"Hopefully he's at a point where he understands the most important thing is sobriety," Hill said. "It's more important than his career, more important than his relationships. That's the most important thing in his life.
"My experience is the players who are in recovery become better athletes. They're more focused. They're not living two lives. Whether he's beyond that point from an ability standpoint, we don't know. But let's say he goes back and is not where he was, not a star player. He knows how to deal with that now. His reaction a year ago would be to hit the bottle or hit cocaine. He's better able to deal with success and failure on the field.
"I think he deserves another chance. There are countless people in this country who are in recovery, who will applaud his recovery at this juncture. He has the tools at his disposal to do it."