Draw a line, give ball to someone else

April 12, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

This is what the police reported:

Lawrence Phillips scaled a wall, broke into a third-floor apartment and threw his former girlfriend to the floor.

Then, with her head cut, he hit her several times in the face, and, as she screamed for help, dragged her by the hair down three flights of stairs.

Phillips, 20, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault and trespassing charges resulting from the above incident last Sept. 10.

And now the Ravens are talking not only about selecting him with the fourth pick of the NFL draft, but also trading up to make sure another team doesn't grab him.

The question is not whether Phillips should be drafted -- some NFL team is going to take the former Nebraska running back, and probably be thankful for it.

The question is whether Phillips is the right choice for a franchise starting over in Baltimore, a franchise getting the deal of a lifetime, and vowing to be a good community member in return.

The answer is no.

Phillips deserves a chance -- he wrote a letter of apology to his former girlfriend, Kate McEwen, paid her medical bills and psychological counseling fees and underwent counseling to learn to control his anger.

But Ravens owner Art Modell didn't exactly ride into Baltimore on a white horse. Now, he seems ready to make Phillips the first true Raven, and a principal selling point for permanent seat licenses.

A fine moral tone that would establish.

Domestic violence is a burning issue right now, not just in sports, but also in society. And it would be one thing if Phillips hurt only himself, like so many foolish athletes today.

But he beat Kate McEwen. He hurt someone else.

This is not a simple decision. Phillips comes from a troubled background. He says he's sorry.

And, as Ravens director of football operations Ozzie Newsome put it, "Do we get paid to win games, or have nice people around?"

If you think the answer is "both," you're in a dream world.

Still, that's a rationalization.

Someone needs to take responsibility, and an owner getting a stadium financed almost entirely by public funds would seem like the ideal candidate to make a stand.

Fat chance.

Modell pronounced Phillips "a very impressive young man" after he and Ravens officials met with the player for three hours Wednesday night and for another hour yesterday morning.

Phillips' little problem?

Fear not, Baltimore.

Detective Art is on the case.

"When we finish our own internal investigation of Lawrence Phillips and he passes our level of testing, I wouldn't care about a public outcry," Modell said during a news conference yesterday.

Wouldn't care.

That's what he said.

"We're not virgins in handling players who have had problems," Modell added. "We don't seek it. We don't look for troubling situations. This may have been an isolated case."

Keep investigating, Art -- it wasn't.

In 1993, Phillips was suspended for one game by Nebraska coach Tom Osborne for fighting with a teammate.

In March 1994, he was alleged to have grabbed a student from Doane (Neb.) College around the neck in downtown Lincoln and pulled him away from someone else.

Misdemeanor charges were dropped after Phillips agreed to pay $400 for a necklace that the student said was damaged.

But then came the incident with McEwen -- an incident that occurred after Osborne had warned Phillips to stay away from his former girlfriend.

Does anyone remember?

Does anyone care?

Professional sports teams will talk themselves into anything when they're in love with a kid's ability.

Already, we can anticipate the spin on Phillips by whatever team that drafts him:

"He grew up in West Covina, Calif., raised in a group home and by foster parents from the age of 11. As part of his probation, he's performing two hours a week of community service. He will expand his volunteer work as an NFL player."

Indeed, for all we know, Phillips is a better kid than Leeland McElroy or any other available running back. Besides, the NFL is full of questionable characters -- in the last month alone, Michael Irvin, Bam Morris and Quentin Coryatt have all made the police blotter.

The reality is, this is sports in the '90s. Men older and supposedly more mature than Phillips -- Warren Moon, Bobby Cox, Robert Parish -- allegedly have engaged in domestic violence. So twisted is this culture, even the wives of Moon and Cox have been willing to forgive and forget.

That doesn't make it right.

That doesn't mean you close your eyes to the problem.

Modell, like so many fans, sees only the bottom line -- that Phillips is an extraordinary football player, perhaps the best in the draft.

But is it really good football sense to take such a risk? Is it good business sense, for that matter?

Maybe McElroy can't run like Phillips. Maybe another player wouldn't make as big an impact. But Modell was vilified for moving the Browns, and now he's scheming to get a player with a troubling past.

Lawrence Phillips scaled a wall, broke into a third-floor apartment and beat his former girlfriend.

It comes down to simple right and wrong.

The Ravens should pass.

Pub Date: 4/12/96

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