NFL won't change policy

League offered help for troubled players before Carruth, Lewis

Seminars, security officers

`You can't hold their hand 24 hours a day'

February 02, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Even though two NFL players are in jail on murder charges, the league seems unlikely to implement new policies to help troubled players.

That's because the league and the teams already have several policies in place to help players overcome their problems.

Bob Ackles, the director of football operations for the Miami Dolphins, who gambled and lost when the team drafted Cecil Collins last year, said, "I don't know what else you can do. There is lots of assistance available throughout the league and on each team."

He added: "You can't hold their hand 24 hours a day. At some point, they have to be responsible for their actions."

Ackles' comments came yesterday after a judge in Atlanta ruled there was probable cause to keep Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis jailed at least until a preliminary hearing can be held Feb. 24. Lewis, 24, was charged in the stabbing deaths of two men outside an Atlanta nightclub early Monday after a night of Super Bowl parties. Atlanta police said he was suspected of being one of several men who fled the scene of the killings in a limousine.

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth remains jailed in Charlotte, N.C., on charges he conspired to kill his pregnant girlfriend. Cherica Adams, 24, was wounded in a Nov. 16 drive-by-shooting and died Dec. 14. Her son was delivered by Caesarean section shortly after the shooting. Carruth, 25, is accused of masterminding the attack with three other men.

Ackles noted the league has an annual seminar for rookies and has league officials who address the team each year.

He said the league has a security officer in each city and the Dolphins have their own security officer.

"He gives them his cell phone and tells them if they have too much to drink in South Beach to call him and he'll pick them up," he said.

Ackles added: "He has a very good rapport with the local police and if they get a whiff that a guy is hanging around with a bad group, he gets a chance to warn him."

Ackles said players who have never had much money find themselves facing new temptations when they suddenly become rich celebrities.

"[Linebacker] Zach Thomas likes to say he wasn't very good looking until he got in the NFL," Ackles said.

Ackles said they scrutinize the players they draft carefully and even have a priest they know as "Father Leo" go to the annual scouting combine for interviews along with a psychologist.

They gambled on Collins in the fifth round even though he was arrested for twice making unauthorized entry into an apartment complex.

Ackles said all the reports indicated he had overcome his problems, but he was arrested on a charge of burglary in December and was suspended indefinitely by the Dolphins.

Even though the NFL has been hit by a series of off-the-field problems this year teams will continue to gamble on problem players.

The Minnesota Vikings rolled the dice on Randy Moss two years ago and he helped them to go 15-1. They did it again with Dimitrius Underwood last year and he lasted one practice.

Mike Brown, the owner of the Cincinnati Bengals, said, "Do you forgo a player who has a reputation and then you line up against him for the next 10 years and maybe you wish you hadn't been so high-minded? You don't have a draft board full of Jack Armstrongs. Some of them are. Some of them aren't. You have to decide whether you want to take that [problem] package or forgo him for maybe a lesser player."

Teams, though, have become more conscious of improving their image in recent years.

After the Dallas Cowboys were hit by a rash of off-the-field incidents, they hired former Cowboy Calvin Hill and his wife, Janet, in 1997 as consultants to implement a program to help the players.

They also hired another former Cowboys running back, Robert Newhouse, to be the point man with the players for the program along with a full-time psychologist, who deals not only with the players, but their families.

Whether or not the program has been responsible, the team's off-the-field problems appear to have lessened.

Brown noted the two murder charges have been aberrations and noted neither player has yet been found guilty.

But he added, "There seems to be too much antisocial behavior, not just in the NFL, but everywhere."

At his Super Bowl news conference Friday, commissioner Paul Tagliabue said that studies have shown NFL players are involved in fewer incidents than society as a whole.

Afterward, Tagliabue noted in an impromptu session that the league has had problems in the past that have been forgotten.

"The thing that is important to recognize is that some of these issues aren't new issues. How many people know that 20, 25 years ago, a player's wife killed a player in the NFL? How many people know that? We tend to have short memories on many of these issues.

"Sometimes life has a way of repeating itself. Sometimes, we have a way of getting all caught up today without understanding the context in which these issues arise," Tagliabue said.

The player he was talking about was Philadelphia Eagles lineman Blenda Gay, who was found in his apartment with his throat slashed in 1976. His wife had apparently been the victim of abuse before she attacked her husband.

Tagliabue and his top staff members were flying to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl yesterday and were not available for comment. The league issued a statement from its New York office that it was aware of the Lewis situation, but would have no comment.

Although there's no sign the off-the-field problems have any effect on the popularity of the league, teams do worry they could have a player in the same situation regardless of how many programs they implement to help them.

Ron Wolf, the general manager of the Green Bay Packers, said, "Every one of us lives in fear of that."

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