Morris in hot water again Texas judge could end NFL career of Raven by revoking probation

Court session today

Alcohol use, failure to meet rules cited

October 10, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Ravens running back Bam Morris, whose career already has been damaged by drug charges in Texas and two subsequent suspensions by the NFL, is expected to appear before a district court judge today in Rockwall, Texas, where he hopes to prevent his 10-year probation from being revoked.

Rockwall County authorities issued an arrest warrant yesterday for Morris, who skipped the team's practice in Owings Mills and was en route to Texas. Rockwall District Attorney Ray Sumrow said Morris' probation should be revoked because he violated two conditions of his probation by using alcohol and by failing to report to his probation officer seven times between July 1996 and August 1997.

Morris plans to turn himself in, then will appear before District Judge Sue Pirtle. Morris' lawyer, Jay Ethington, said Pirtle has a reputation as a tough judge and could effectively end the player's career by sending him to jail.

"This all rests in the hands of the judge, and we've got a real strict one," Ethington said. "If the judge feels it's better for him and for society to revoke his probation and incarcerate him, she could well end his career. I don't think she is a Baltimore Ravens fan."

Morris could not be reached.

Ethington said he hopes Morris will be assigned a hearing at a later date and be allowed to post bond, return to Baltimore and resume playing before going back to Texas to plead his case.

"Let's see what happens and whether or not valid explanations can be made [by Morris]," Ethington said. "Some of the allegations are kind of vague and unspecific, and I'm still scrutinizing the files. I hope the likelihood of him remaining in custody during these proceedings is not very likely. But this has gotten [Morris'] entire attention. He's realistic about it."

Morris, 25, pleaded guilty to marijuana possession after his arrest in March 1996 on Interstate 30 near Rockwall, where a police officer discovered nearly six pounds of pot in the trunk of Morris' car.

Morris, a four-year veteran, served a five-game suspension at the start of last season. The Ravens signed him to a two-year, $1.8 million contract in September, and Morris went on to rush for 618 yards over the final seven games of the 1996 season. Only the Detroit Lions' Barry Sanders was more productive during that span.

But Morris ran into trouble again last January, when a league drug test revealed he had used alcohol. He began this season by serving a four-game suspension.

The NFL refused to turn the drug tests over to Rockwall authorities, maintaining that the test results are privileged information under Texas law, because they are part of a voluntary substance abuse program.

At issue now is whether his alcohol use can be proved and whether he technically failed to report for his required probation meetings. Ethington said Morris had his probation supervision switched in August from Rockwall to Baltimore County.

"We were unaware of his missed meetings, but we now know that four of those seven meetings were while he was with us, doing Ravens-related work," Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne said.

"It's a situation we need to become more familiar with," Byrne said. "I'm told that, in normal circumstances, a hearing is set, bond is set, then you move on with your life and come back to plead your case.

"We would hope that [Morris] will be treated as any other person in a probation situation."

Sumrow said: "I don't care what line of work [Morris] is in. I just care about the law. His celebrity has nothing to do with this. He's going to be treated like any other citizen down here."

Reached yesterday in Morris' hometown of Cooper, Texas, Marie Morris, Bam's mother, said: "I don't know what to say. I'm just disappointed in the whole ordeal, because it shouldn't be happening. We'll get to the bottom of this [today]."

The Ravens practiced without Morris for about 90 minutes yesterday, as they looked forward to their bye weekend before resuming a normal schedule on Monday.

As of now, veteran Earnest Byner is back in the role in which he began the season -- as the No. 1 running back in place of Morris.

Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said he will believe Morris complied with the probation rules until he hears differently. He also said the latest episode involving the player may have been more damaging if the Ravens were facing an opponent on Sunday.

"It doesn't affect anything we're doing this week, and if this had to happen, now is a good time for it to happen," he said.

Byner said: "You just have to deal with these kinds of distractions. When you have someone with potential, you like to see it fulfilled. Like Ted said to us, we're our own worst enemies in most situations. We limit the potential we have."

Defensive tackle Larry Webster empathized with Morris. Webster, who has been suspended twice for violating the league's substance abuse policy and returned from a one-year suspension this season, questioned the methods of Texas law enforcement officials.

"Why couldn't they just call the man up and explain things to him instead of going about it this way? They know where he works," Webster said.

"I've been through that pain and embarrassment, and that man has had enough of it already. Some people get a kick out of causing him more. I hope and pray that everything goes well with Bam."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Miami Dolphins

Site: Memorial Stadium

When: 4 p.m. Oct. 19

TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Series: First meeting

Pub Date: 10/10/97

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