There are a lot of cultural issues in today’s society that affect everyone – including the NFL and its players. From 2001 through 2010, the FBI dealt with never-before-seen levels of gang violence. The figures were outrageous, and much higher than I had expected. According to the FBI’s official site, gang-related complaints numbered 12,169; indictment and information 29,273; arrests 57,106; and convictions 23,094.
Let me be clear: I’m not saying the NFL is full of individuals with gang affiliations. However, growing up around that environment desensitizes people to the violence and teaches them that it’s okay. Or, if it’s not acceptable, the survival instincts kick in without them even realizing it.
A sociologist source said some of the major indicators of this problem point toward the lack of a family unit. In my 15 years in the NFL, during combine and draft meetings I heard tales that not only were unbelievable, but also extremely sad and poignant. And, of course, this was just a very small sample of today’s society.
Players told stories of being raised in poor conditions (city surroundings and neighborhoods) and single family dwellings (mother or father only). In several cases, they were raised by a grandmother because their parents were deceased (in one instance, both died of AIDS), or adopted by other family members, maybe even a high school coach. They talked about some form of violence seen daily, not to mention drug dealers lurking on the corner. Many mentioned alcohol abuse inflicted by teenagers and young adults who were high school dropouts and unemployed individuals. Other players talked about unsupervised times during which they were left at home to raise themselves while parents worked multiple jobs. To pass the time, they played video games, ran the street and, in many cases, spent hours with females who were considerably older than them.
Digging into the number of murders committed by youths 10-29 years of age in major cities also produced some shocking truths. According to a 2002 United Nations summary on crime trends and operations of the criminal justice system, said age bracket was responsible for 8,226 murders between 1990 and 1999. As a city boy in Seattle, Wash., I saw my share of fights and heard the occasional gunshot before my folks moved us to the suburbs. But maybe I had tunnel vision, previously overlooking such harsh statistics because I was not raised in that exact environment.
More statistics show that 80 percent of homicide victims 15-19 years of age were killed with a firearm, and arrest rates for weapons offenses involving youths 10-17 doubled from 1988-1993. The arrest rates have dropped 24 percent since 1997, but the number of high school students carrying firearms to school is growing. As my professional source told me, “violence is a learned behavior”; the act of injuring one’s self or another person is deliberate. Race, gender and violence were also stressed as major factors, creating an unmistakable pattern. Other driving forces include poverty, extent of education and geographic location.
These social issues go well beyond the scope of my blog, but today’s NFL players and professional athletes in general are immediately placed under a high-powered microscope upon entering the league. They come from many walks of life, and different nationalities, and may have even grown up like most people.
The fact of the matter, though, is that others grew up living around, dodging, and running from much different elements than the norm. While this is no excuse, it is reality. Their athletic talents were recognized at a young age. Someone guided them or pushed them in the right direction and on the right path toward college, despite the overall odds. As the numbers were explained to me a few years ago, out of a range of 100,000 high school seniors, only 215 – 0.2 percent – ultimately make an NFL roster. Of the 9,000 yearly college seniors, 320 to 330 of them get invited to the NFL scouting combine. Only 2.4% make a roster. While these numbers may be slightly higher or lower, a very small percentage achieves NFL livelihood, period.
Below are some of the arrests that have happened in the NFL over the last few months – a small sample of the league’s flawed culture:
Justin Blackmon, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Charge: aggravated driving under the influence. Blackmon was arrested early Sunday, June 3, in Stillwater, Okla., after being pulled over for driving 60 mph in a 35 mph zone and driving left of center. He had a blood-alcohol content of 0.24 percent. Blackmon, 22, was later released on a $1000 bond.
Nick Fairley, DT, Detroit Lions
Charges: driving under the Influence, attempting to elude police. Fairley was arrested early Sunday, May 27, 2012, in Mobile, Ala. The 24-year-old was pulled over for driving 100 mph. Fairley initially refused to stop for the trooper’s emergency lights and siren. He was later released after he posted $1750 bond. He was also ticketed for reckless driving, no proof of insurance and having an open container.
Fairley had been previously arrested April 3 in Mobile after a traffic stop at around 12:30 p.m. Police received a citizen’s complaint about a vehicle speeding through the neighborhood several times and pulled over the vehicle, which was being driven by Fairley. When police searched the vehicle, they found marijuana.
Jerome Felton, FB, Minnesota Vikings
Charge: second-degree driving while impaired. The Vikings fullback was arrested Saturday, June 2, in Eden Prairie, Minn. Felton, 25, refused to submit to a chemical test and was later released after posting $12000 bond.
Caleb King, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Charge: suspicion of third-degree assault with substantial bodily harm. King was arrested April 28 in Minnesota after allegedly assaulting a man.
Brandon Meriweather, DB, Washington Redskins
Charge: driving under the influence. The Redskins safety was arrested April 26 in Arlington County, Va., at approximately 3 a.m. following a traffic stop. He failed a field sobriety test and refused a breathalyzer test.
Mikel Leshoure, RB, Detroit Lions
Cited for: possession of marijuana (second offense). The Lions running back was cited March 12 in Berrien County, Mich., after a traffic stop in a vehicle in which he was a passenger. During the traffic stop, police noticed Leshoure chewing marijuana and saw small pieces of marijuana down the front of his shirt. Police seized small amounts of marijuana from both front seats, the center console and the front floorboards, along with a partially burned marijuana blunt from a cup of liquid on the center console. This was Leshoure’s second drug-related offense in less than a month. He was stopped Feb. 18 in Benton Township and cited for possession of marijuana.
Below are a few arrests of college players and future NFL prospects – in the month of May alone:
Jacob Stoneburner and Jack Mewhort, Ohio State University
Charges: obstructing official business. Buckeyes tight end Stoneburner and offensive lineman Mewhort were arrested Saturday, June 2, in Shawnee Hills, Ohio, after police allegedly saw the men urinating between buildings. When police attempted to talk with them, they ran away. Police eventually captured the two players, along with a third individual on the scene. Stoneburner and Mewhort were later released after posting $2000 bond.
Darius Gilbert, Bowling Green State University
Charge: robbery. Gilbert was arrested May 31 in Bowling Green, Ohio, in connection with a robbery that took place May 26. The incident occurred around 4 a.m., when Gilbert allegedly knocked a man to the ground and stole cash, a credit card, a watch and a cell phone. The 21-year-old was suspended indefinitely from the team after this incident.
Will Campbell, University of Michigan
Charges: malicious destruction of property worth more than $1,000 but less than $20,000 (felony), malicious destruction of property worth more than $200 but less than $1,000 (misdemeanor). Campbell was arrested April 7 in Ann Arbor, Mich., at around 2 a.m. after attempting to slide across the hood of a vehicle.
Cameron Clear, University of Tennessee
Charge: theft more than $1,000 (felony). The Volunteer was arrested May 22 in Knox County, Tenn.
Christian Littlehead, Oklahoma State University
Charge: public intoxication. The defensive tackle was arrested early Saturday, May 19, in Tahlequah, Okla., along with four other people after police responded to an apartment complex noise complaint at approximately 4:30 a.m. Police found several people drinking in the parking lot of the apartment complex and being loud.
Corbin Berkstresser, University of Missouri
Charge: leaving the scene of an accident. The Mizzou signal-caller was arrested early Tuesday morning, May 15, in Columbia. He was charged with hitting a parked car and leaving the scene of the accident. A redshirt freshman, Berkstresser was later released on $4500 bond.
Marquel Wade, Maudrecus Humphrey and Andrew Peterson, University of Arkansas
Charges: residential burglary. Wideouts Wade and Humphrey and tight end Peterson were arrested May 12 in Fayetteville, Ark., for allegedly burglarizing dorm rooms. The stolen property was valued at nearly $5,000. All three players were suspended indefinitely from the team after this incident.
Chandler Gayton, Eastern Washington University
Charges: drawing and intimidating with a weapon at a police officer, possession of a firearm in a bar. The defensive back was arrested May 11 in Cheney, Wash., after allegedly drawing a gun on police. Eastern Washington dismissed the 21-year-old from its team following this episode.
Darwin Cook and Terence Garvin, West Virginia University
Charges: shoplifting. Defensive backs Cook and Garvin were arrested May 8 in Morgantown, W. Va. Both had allegedly stolen snacks from a local convenience store on April 12. Surveillance cameras showed Garvin taking a bag from behind the counter, which Cook then filled with three bottles of Gatorade and two bags of Doritos. Garvin also placed two additional bags of pretzels in the bag. Cameras then showed Cook carrying the bag out of the store without either Cook or Garvin paying for the items. Arrest warrants were issued April 25.
Lawrence Burl, Tulane University
Charges: possession with intent to distribute marijuana, illegal carrying of weapons with narcotics. The Blue Wave defensive tackle was arrested May 3 in Louisiana. Burl, 19, was suspended indefinitely from the team thereafter.
Antavian Edison, Purdue University
Charge: carrying a concealed weapon. The Boilermakers wide receiver was arrested early Sunday, May 6, in Fort Myers, Fla., along with his uncle. They were pulled over for running a stop sign. Police searched the vehicle and found a silver “Pink Lady” .38 Special revolver, 17 rounds of Peters .38 Special ammunition and one round of R-P .38 Special ammunition. Edison, 21, was later released on a $1,500 bond.
For its part, the NFL does a great job of educating rookies at the yearly NFL rookie symposium. They use retired players who relate their own experiences, allowing the rookies to walk in their shoes and develop empathy toward others based on their past experiences. There is nightclub role play and an analysis of responses, with open discussions on how to deal with females who are coming from several directions. They talk about peer pressure, competition, miscommunication, respect for yourself and your new teammates and others. The processes of learning self-control, problem-solving and cultivating anger management skills are also emphasized. The main message: You are now an employee of the National Football League, and when you get in trouble – like in life – there are consequences for your actions.
As for the social issues within the community that we discussed earlier, I feel that prevention and intervention among today’s youth, along with appropriate mentor programs, are truly needed to help our young people in high-risk areas. Today’s adolescents are at a heightened risk of becoming both victims and perpetuators and need continued education, positive experiences and reinforcement, along with interpersonal skill and basic values growing up. Family, in whatever form, plays a key role in helping mentors remove the negative influences from kids’ lives, whether it is during a family or personal crisis. Any and all positive role models are needed: extended family members (uncles/aunts), friends, counselors, teachers, coaches, Big Brother organizations and social workers. Community outlets, including church and organized recreation centers, help as well.
The NFL is experiencing the same serious problems as today’s society and is no different than any other corporation, save for the enlarged microscope that consistently exists. Rampant drug and alcohol use, arrests and violence among a small group is ongoing and seems to be on an upward climb. One can take the young man out of a poor environment, from high school to college, but one can’t necessarily take the poor environmental upbringing out of the young man. Let’s all take time to help a troubled youth today, so that they can become tomorrow’s professional athlete, doctor, lawyer, teacher, banker, farmer, chef or judge.
Arrest data provided by Arrestnation.com.