Phillips is an ugly choice, but sports world isn't pretty

April 20, 1996|By John Eisenberg

Let's get this clear right away: It is indecent that the Ravens want Lawrence Phillips badly enough to trade up for him in today's NFL draft.

It should offend anyone's sensibilities that the Ravens are willing to make Phillips a high pick and sign him to a huge contract less than a year after he battered and bloodied his former girlfriend and dragged her down a stairwell in her apartment building.

Heaping glory and riches on a young man so soon after such an incident only diminishes the crime and makes it easier for others to feel safe in committing it, knowing there is life on the other side, particularly if you can run with a football.

As much as Phillips had a troubled, tragic youth and deserves a second chance, as we all do, drafting him and celebrating him so unashamedly compounds the plague of domestic violence coursing through our society.

Can't we do better?

No, we can't.

Just consider the cases of Warren Moon, Rod Strickland, Bobby Cox, Dan McCarney and Robert Parish -- all alleged abusers, all ** still hard at work.

All of which is why condemning the Ravens is a dangerous proposition.

If you condemn them for lacking a moral compass in their lust for Phillips, you had better condemn the entire institution of sports, which shrugs off domestic violence and many other crimes amid the cold rush to win games and generate profits.

Sure, it would be wonderful to see the Ravens and the rest of the NFL draw a moral line in the sand instead of just ignoring the horrific details of Phillips' case.

But as much as that makes sense morally, it would be a hypocritical position.

Sad, but true.

How can we condemn the Ravens and ostracize Phillips when so many other athletes and coaches who commit crimes are given a free ride past the clutches of trouble by teams, fans and league officials?

Strickland, the Portland Trail Blazers' star guard, was arrested in November on charges of assault and harassment, and recently pleaded guilty to striking his former girlfriend. Does anyone care? Not as long as he is available for the playoffs.

estranged wife of McCarney, the football coach at Iowa State, told police her husband beat her 20 or 30 times, according to a Sports Illustrated story last year. Yet when the violence was reported by an Iowa newspaper after McCarney was hired to his $300,000-a-year job, his wife recanted most of her story and the university stood by McCarney.

sad truth is that sports is sports and morality is morality, and anyone who believes that they overlap is kidding himself.

Braves manager Cox didn't miss a game after slapping his wife around one night last year; she admitted it had happened before.

When Parish was lionized for setting the NBA record for games played, the stories didn't mention that his former wife told Sports Illustrated last year that he had regularly beaten her.

The lights of athletic celebrity have become so bright that they blot out decency.

We're not just talking about domestic abuse cases, either. Steve Howe and Doc Gooden have been caught with their noses in cocaine so often that you need an abacus to keep count, but they're both pitching for the Yankees this year. Does anyone care? Is anyone faulting the club for paying millions to habitual drug abusers? Only if they pitch poorly.

How can we dismiss these crimes in our minds and ostracize Phillips? Isn't that an example of selective morality?

Absolutely.

During Moon's trial we learned that he had abused his wife long before the incident that got him in trouble last year. His polished image was a myth. Therein lies the danger of drawing a line in the sand on domestic abuse: You can never trust what you see. We know that now.

We would applaud the Ravens for bypassing Phillips, but how would we know that the player they drafted in his place wasn't just as guilty? So much abuse occurs behind closed doors and goes unreported.

So many cheers rain down on athletes and coaches who don't deserve it.

It isn't fair to make Lawrence Phillips pay when others don't.

In the soiled world in which they live, the Ravens should draft him, counsel him, nurture him like a son. Give him the family he so obviously needs.

In a perfect world, they should pass him by, teach him a lesson, send out a message that is a lot more important than any team's won-lost record.

Alas, sports doesn't work that way. If you think it makes me proud, you're wrong.

Pub Date: 4/20/96

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