Upstanding Foxworth is NFL antidote

April 16, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

With the Imus-Rutgers controversy, the Duke lacrosse case and the NFL's verdict on two bad-behaving players, last week was particularly disheartening to fans who look to sports for justice, fairness and positive reinforcement of their values.

"Hopefully," Domonique Foxworth said by phone from Denver late last week, "I can help."

Foxworth - who grew up in Randallstown, played at Western Tech and Maryland, and now is a cornerback for the Broncos - already has helped. In the case of the NFL's lengthy suspensions of the Tennessee Titans' Adam "Pacman" Jones and Cincinnati Bengals' Chris Henry, Foxworth didn't help directly, but he came close.

Back in February, Foxworth joined a select group of players, coaches and executives invited by commissioner Roger Goodell to the scouting combine in Indianapolis, to discuss the parameters of the league policy that eventually allowed Goodell to sit Jones for a full season and Henry for eight games.

Three weeks later, Foxworth was invited by NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw to Maui for the union's annual player representative meetings, to address in part the same topic.

For someone like Foxworth, who hadn't yet turned 24 and had just finished his second season in the NFL, it was an acknowledgment of his uncommon maturity, intelligence and sense of purpose and a sign of the widespread trust he has inspired.

Not to mention a sign that the NFL isn't stacked top to bottom with thugs, knuckleheads and brats, as the likes of Jones and Henry were making the league appear to be.

Foxworth, to the contrary, has managed to catch the eye of the commissioner and the head of the union for the right reasons.

"I like to think my reputation is out there as an upstanding NFL player, one of the many," Foxworth said after participating in an offseason workout with the Broncos. Not, he added, in the minority, the implication left by, among other factors, an already-infamous front-page photo spread in USA Today featuring 41 NFL players arrested or charged with crimes recently.

"There are 1,400 players in the NFL," he said. "While we know we need to reduce that number [of players in trouble], the few make us all look suspect. It sheds a bad light on the league and on individuals. Personally, I've known all my life that as an athlete you get stereotypes, and as a black athlete it's a double stereotype."

Which means, then, that Foxworth agrees with the harsh punishment of Jones, who has been called before law enforcement authorities 10 times in less than three years, most recently for an incident in a Las Vegas strip club around the same time Foxworth was meeting at the combine.

Right? Well ...

"I can't really say that," Foxworth said. "I'd like to think those guys are not being punished because there's more focus on what's going on all around the league. I hope they're only being punished for what they've been involved in. If they are, that's fine.

"But it could be that they're being punished for what others have done before them, not just the recent incidents. And then you also look and say, `They're football players, that's what they do, and that's been taken away from them.'"

He paused, took a deep breath, then added, "Definitely, that's a valid question."

Foxworth did say, however, that new guidelines, discipline and education were necessary before and after the two meetings.

"It hadn't gotten out of control," he said, "but we were there to make sure that it didn't get there. ... It came down to what the commissioner felt, we all felt - that we had to take a strong stance."

Even as the youngest and least experienced member of either grouping, he "was really aggressive," he said. "There aren't many opportunities for a young player like myself to be in a situation like that, with the commissioner wanting to hear what I thought."

Part of that aggressiveness was his lifelong effort to be a leader, mentor and role model, dating to middle school. Part is his desire not to be painted with the same brush as someone like Jones.

And a big part is that he has seen a teammate become a victim of violence. Darrent Williams, drafted the same year he was and a starter ahead of him at cornerback last season, was shot to death New Year's morning in front of a Denver nightclub after a postseason-finale party that Foxworth had decided to pass up.

"Obviously what happened to him had nothing to do with him," Foxworth said, his voice no longer as light and easy as it had been throughout the conversation. "It's something everybody has to be aware of at all times.

"You really hurt when you think about it. You see how easy you can be on the other side of it. That's part of what we talked about when we talked about conduct, that avoiding situations like that so it won't happen to you is just as important."

Foxworth already understood that. He believes most of his fellow NFL players understand it. If they all do now, Foxworth - the pride of Randallstown, in every sense - is a big reason.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Read David Steele on Jackie Robinson Day at baltimoresun.com/steeleblog

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