For Haynesworth, anger has been toughest foe

Titans defensive tackle showed signs of poor behavior before Sunday's stomping

October 06, 2006|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun reporter

Albert Haynesworth had a reputation for angry outbursts long before he crossed the line of good judgment and common decency in Nashville, Tenn.

In 2003, as a second-year defensive tackle with the Tennessee Titans, he kicked teammate Justin Hartwig in the chest at the conclusion of a practice play.

As a sophomore at the University of Tennessee, he once fought with a teammate in practice, left the field and, according to the Associated Press, returned with a metal pole looking for the player.

But no one could have predicted that Haynesworth, a 6-foot-6, 320-pound behemoth, would stomp a helmet-less opponent in the face with his cleats Sunday, opening a head wound that required 30 stitches and left onlookers aghast.

Or could they?

From Charlotte, N.C., where Hartwig is a center with the Carolina Panthers, Haynesworth's former teammate said he wasn't surprised. "He just loses his mind sometimes," Hartwig told reporters this week.

In Baltimore, Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden conceded that he was not exactly shocked, either. "I'll put it like this," he said yesterday. "If you told me that somebody in the NFL would do that, he would be on my short list."

Then there was Dr. Mitch Abrams, a sports psychologist who specializes in violence prevention and works with inmates on mental health at six New Jersey prisons.

"It's a mistake to believe that athletes can turn it on or turn it off when nobody is teaching them that," Abrams said. "It's not surprising it was a defensive lineman who did this. Anger at high levels interferes with the ability to make good decisions."

Haynesworth's actions were so egregious that new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed out the league's biggest suspension for on-field misconduct - five games - which is more than twice the previous high. It is expected to cost him more than $190,000 in loss of salary.

It was so far over the line of accepted behavior that Haynesworth, 25, will not appeal his penalty, despite the fact that the NFL Players Association appeals almost every discipline meted out.

Haynesworth received good news yesterday for the first time since he kicked Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode twice in the head, once after Gurode's helmet was knocked off. Gurode's agent announced that the player will not file criminal charges.

Filing charges over violence in sports is not unprecedented. Two NHL players, Todd Bertuzzi and Marty McSorley, both faced lawsuits after they willfully injured opponents in separate on-ice acts.

While Haynesworth's future with the Titans after the suspension remains in doubt - his coach was extremely critical of him yesterday - he is already taking steps to modify his behavior.

At a news conference at a Nashville hotel yesterday, a contrite Haynesworth said he will begin counseling in behavioral management this week and plans to spend Sundays during his suspension at a local center for children. He also apologized again to Gurode.

"I still don't know why I did something like that," he said during the conference.

"It was just a moment, a blur, a big, big mistake. It's something I wish I could take back. I'd give anything to take it back. I don't know how to explain how sorry I am."

In an interview with Fox Sports Radio, Titans coach Jeff Fisher described Haynesworth's conduct as "brutal" and openly questioned whether the former first-round draft pick will play again for the team.

"He's not in the [team's] building, he won't be in the building, he may never be in the building ever again," Fisher said.

"Is he going to go out and gain his weight back or come back not in shape? I don't know. At this point, I don't care. The conduct on the field was so outside the lines that right now I've moved on. He's not part of this team."

In a violent sport where controlled rage is the standard, Haynesworth's actions were seen in the extreme by current and former players.

Said Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle, who played with Haynesworth in Nashville: "I think kicking a guy with his helmet off goes past football. It's more like street life."

Former Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, who was a sideline reporter for the Fox TV broadcast Sunday, called it a "cowardly move."

"Splitting a guy's head open with a kick to the face is as bad as I've seen," Siragusa said this week.

Ravens running back Jamal Lewis knew Haynesworth while both were at the University of Tennessee.

"He was an all-right person, a good person," Lewis said. "But on the field, he was a dog, a bully. He always wanted to be the man.

"I never would have thought he'd do this. I know he didn't mean to actually cut this guy. He probably meant to hurt him a little bit, maybe put a knot on his head, but not scar him."

Aubrayo Franklin, a reserve defensive tackle with the Ravens, played with Haynesworth in Knoxville, but refused to speculate about what might have pushed the Titans tackle into dangerous territory Sunday.

"I don't think nothing could push me that far," Franklin said. "I never saw him go off at Tennessee."

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