Violence can catch athletes in crosshairs

September 24, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

Commentary

It was shocking to hear that five basketball players at Duquesne University had been shot last weekend after a campus party.

What's more shocking is that something like that doesn't happen more often.

Violence, especially involving guns, seems to get more random every day, while athletes of varying ages and levels of prominence routinely find themselves in social situations that are ripe with potential trouble - even if, as in the case of the Duquesne players, they do nothing to encourage or invite it, and are in fact walking away from it.

"If you fight them, you get sued. It's a lose-lose," Ravens linebacker Bart Scott said. "It's like Charles Barkley said once - people think that because you're rich and famous, they can come up to you and do or say anything to you. That's not true. We're all human."

Scott knows about that too well. His friend and former teammate, linebacker Roderick Green, spent an evening last summer in as benign an environment imaginable, hanging out with a cousin and friends at a Randallstown bowling alley. But when a stranger started causing trouble, and Green left the building to get away from it, the man followed him out and stabbed him.

Green recovered and, after being released by the Ravens at the end of preseason, signed with the San Francisco 49ers; his alleged attacker, caught on tape by a nearby security camera, was charged with attempted murder.

"That could have been any of us," Scott said. "That's a place we all have been before. ... We thought it was a safe place. It was right down the street from where we all live. It's not like we were running around in East Baltimore."

For at least the past decade, all of the major sports leagues like the NFL, and major colleges, have increased the number of programs and guidelines in place to help athletes enjoy their celebrity without being victims of its inherent dangers - especially the ones that come up while mingling with the public.

Occasionally, the advice and attempts to help fall on deaf ears. Often, the players steer clear, even though that might mean leading a sheltered, decidedly non-celebrity life.

"I don't want people saying our quarterback is doing whatever at all hours of the night. I'm thinking of that," Maryland senior Sam Hollenbach said. "Even if I wanted to go enjoy myself somewhere, I'd probably have a couple of friends and go somewhere off-campus. I'm more into having a good time somewhere, and not the whole party scene."

Several of his teammates took the opposite route one night last October, ended up in a brawl at a bar near campus and were disciplined by coach Ralph Friedgen. Who started what remains unclear even now.

Still, sometimes trouble catches up to athletes no matter how hard they try to avoid it. That's the category in which the Duquesne players landed, as did Green.

"The first thing I told him when I talked to him was that I was very proud of him for walking away," Ravens president Dick Cass said of Green. "I thought he handled it just perfectly.

"A bowling alley - that's not a dangerous place, you don't think," Cass added.

In the same vein, campus parties shouldn't be particularly unsafe - yet most anyone who has attended college, whether urban, suburban or rural, knows of a time non-students got into a party, possibly sneaked in by an accomplice, as is alleged in the Duquesne shootings.

College athletes regularly get nagged for segregating themselves from normal student life, but when they do mingle, they can be as susceptible to dangerous environments as the non-athletes - if not moreso.

As for the pros, they often get a bad rap for surrounding themselves with security and sequestering themselves in VIP rooms. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, for removing themselves completely from any interaction with the public.

But many find that better than the alternative.

"They have to realize that everybody doesn't have their best interests at heart. I'm not naive enough to think guys won't go out, but think about where you're going and who you're going with," said O.J. Brigance, the former Ravens linebacker and now their director of player development. Walking away is always the best option, even if, he said, "it doesn't seem like the coolest thing to do."

The problem? Not even walking away guarantees anything.

"It doesn't just happen to athletes," Brigance said, by way of making another point to his players. "You see it on the 5 o'clock news every day, Joe Blow had this or that happen to him. It can happen to anybody."

Sometimes, "anybody" means a scholarship athlete, or the backup linebacker for the local pro team. It's a miracle that it's only "sometimes." david.steele@baltsun.com

David Steele -- Points After

Today is the Orioles' last home game of the season. Just one more chance to take advantage of the low, low ticket prices your team owner is using to justify those nine straight losing seasons.

Now, though, you have a chance to do your part and really help the Orioles: Turn on MASN now, and don't turn it off all winter.

After 15 games as Notre Dame coach, Charlie "Knute Rockne Jr." Weis had the same record (11-4) that Tyrone "Killing the Program" Willingham had. Just putting that out there.

Bet the Tennessee Titans are now wondering if they locked the wrong quarterback out of their facilities earlier this year.

Can't complain about the Bowl Championship Series as long as it isn't run by the people who ran the state primaries a couple of weeks ago.

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