Let Phillips prove himself off the field

April 17, 1996|By MIKE LITTWIN

THE BALTIMORE Ravens, your new pro football team, wouldn't draft a convicted pedophile to play for them.

They wouldn't draft a convicted murderer.

They probably wouldn't even draft a guy who exposed himself. You'll never see Pee-wee Herman lining up on a football field.

But on Saturday, NFL draft day, when the world stands still so football teams can make their draft picks in front of God and a national TV audience, the Ravens are hoping to select Lawrence Phillips.

Who isn't a pedophile.

Who isn't a murderer.

Who in no way resembles Pee-wee Herman.

Who did, however, plead no contest to beating up his ex-girlfriend last September while at the University of Nebraska. And that's apparently all right.

See, it's only domestic abuse -- the crime with two sides of the story. Domestic abuse is the crime we forgive; even the abused tend to forgive (see: Warren and Felicia Moon). She made him mad. She was stepping out. She burned the dinner. She smiled crooked. She started it. Hey, he had to hit her.

Let's get something straight here. Like Charles Barkley, I don't think athletes are role models. And I also know the raison d'etre for professional sports.

They're not charities. They are the ultimate in win-at-all-costs capitalism. The criteria for a star running back, like Lawrence Phillips would be, are that he can run fast and hard and true. It doesn't matter whether he's good to his mother. His job is to run the football, not to cure the sick.

But there are standards that apply even to football teams: And the principal standard is whether or not the public would accept the athlete as part of the community.

Vince Lombardi was wrong about winning being everything. Selling tickets is everything.

Football teams send their players out into the community in order to win over fans. How does a guy who hits women fit into that community, our community?

So, ask yourself whether you want to put your money in Phillips' pockets and whether you want him in your homes.

As background, you might want to know what the cops said about the night of the crime. Phillips scaled a three-story dorm to assault his ex-girl friend. He pushed her to the floor. He hit her. He hit her again. And then he dragged her by her hair down three flights of steps.

The judge heard it all and gave him probation.

His football coach at Nebraska heard it all and kicked him off the team. For six weeks. He brought Phillips back in time to play in the national championship game. Phillips ran for 165 yards and Nebraska won easily.

What's the lesson for Phillips, who had been in trouble before for losing his temper?

That, if you beat up your girlfriend, the price is a national championship and a multimillion-dollar contract.

It can get tricky here, though.

Phillips is 20 years old. He grew up in circumstances that will bend, if not break, your heart, complete with foster parents and group homes.

If he's angry, maybe he earned the right to be angry. If he acts out, maybe he never learned not to.

In this era of lock-'em-up, don't we believe anymore in second chances? When do you feel confident writing a young man off?

Phillips did say he was sorry. He wrote the victim a letter of apology and paid her medical bills, including counseling. He sought counseling himself. Maybe he said he was sorry to impress a judge or maybe to get back on the football team. Maybe he said it because he meant it and he actually learned a lesson.

We have no way to know. Not yet.

But there may be a solution. Somebody is going to draft him, and the team that does draft him could make a difference in his life. So, why not the Ravens?

And when they do, they should address the issue directly. They should say that they understand there are concerns in the community, as there must be.

They should say they know domestic violence is not a trivial issue, and that it is a particularly serious problem in the macho football world.

Let them put into Phillips' contract that, if he hits somebody, the contract is void. And that they have the right to monitor his activities.

Let them put into Phillips' contract that he has to do serious community activity -- talking about domestic violence, visiting shelters, bringing light to an issue that is too often left in the dark.

Let them put into Phillips' contract that he has to continue to see a counselor about his unresolved rage.

Let him prove that he deserves our support.

The burden, it seems, should be on Phillips. And on the Ravens.

And not on us.

Pub Date: 4/17/96

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