[size=18px]Are Troubled Athletes Worth Keeping?[/size]

July 10, 2006
Written by Jay McDonnell

Are troubled athletes worth keeping on the roster? OK, yes this question has been asked –and answered. So please let’s not over analyze it. Suffice it to say, its relevancy stands, especially now for the Bengals who are faced with such a dilemma, as recent media coverage of Chris Henry, Frostee Rucker and A.J. Nicholson gives credence to further this discussion. And why should questionable character be the sole consideration when drafting a player, signing one as a free agent or simply giving up on the troubled player and releasing him? Do we give up on the player? Where do we draw the line between personal behavior and whether or not that impacts the team? We all know that character is an important part of the equation when evaluating a player’s worth to the team; however, in most cases it does not have the value of a player’s talent on the field. And here are few examples why the Bengals should not give up on Henry, Rucker or Nicholson.

On a number of occasions Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski had brushes with the law while attending Florida State. An outstanding kicker on the field, amassing awards and accolades, he still managed to get into off field trouble. Involved in several bar fights for which he was never disciplined by Coach Bowden, Janikowski continued to excel on the field, but also managed to get into increasingly more trouble off it. Despite his troubles at Florida State, he became the 5th kicker in NFL history to be drafted in the first round by the Raiders. He has since been the team leader in scoring for 6 consecutive years and ranks third in team history for scoring. He also holds the team records for longest field goal at 55 yards and highest field goal percentage at 80%.

Another troubled Raider was wide receiver Randy Moss, who had brushes with the law before entering college, resulting in his scholarship to Notre Dame being revoked. Before enrolling at Florida State (yeah, the Seminoles again – is that a testament to Coach Bowden’s affinity for handling troubled players?) he tested positive for marijuana and violated his probation and was subsequently let go by the school. While a Viking, Moss was charged with Suspicion of Assault with a Deadly Weapon (a felony) and a misdemeanor marijuana possession when he was stopped for making an illegal left turn in Minneapolis. Despite these off field incidents, Moss set an NFL rookie record for TD’s in a season at 17, voted to the Pro Bowl 5 times, and has averaged 12.25 TD’s per season as a Viking - an NFL record.

Finally, there was Minnesota Vikings receiver Chris Carter. After being released by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1989, Carter admitted that the reason for his release was because of drug and alcohol abuse. Not because, as then Eagles Coach Buddy Ryan stated, “he could only catch touchdowns”. He would later go on to play in 8 Pro Bowls, finished the 90’s with the second most receptions behind Jerry Rice, and set the Vikings standards for receptions, receiving yards and TDs. When he becomes eligible, Carter could potentially be voted into the Hall of Fame.

That brings us to wide receiver Chris Henry who has been arrested 4 times in 7 months. Based on the current collective bargaining agreement, we know the Bengals can’t release him outright due to personal problems off the field and only for on-the-field performance. The most the team can do is suspend him without pay for 4 games during the season, and suspend him for the remainder of the season – with pay (remember TO and Keshawn?). Are the Bengals concerned? You bet. Do the Bengals give up on Henry? Here’s why I say put him back on the field.

Henry was drafted by the Bengals in 2005 after becoming the Big East Rookie of the Year in 2003 and having scored 12 TDs in only 7 games during the 2004 season with the Mountaineers. The Bengals were aware of Henry’s troubles at West Virginia (tossed from a game for too many unsportsmanlike-like conduct penalties and benched in his last collegiate game) but saw his potential to play at the professional level. Henry performed above expectations in his rookie season last year and proved he belongs in the NFL. Henry has become the “chat” among media pundits and fans alike and suddenly people are suggesting that he should be released. Controversy will be no stranger! I know my position on this won’t be popular, but what price will the Bengals pay if they don’t keep Henry on the roster?

Frostee Rucker was the Bengals 3rd round pick this past draft. In his first two seasons at USC, he totaled 55 tackles, 11.5 for loss, and four sacks. As a senior in 2005, he matched those numbers finishing with 56 tackles, 14 for loss, with 6.5 sacks and an interception. He was recently charged with spousal abuse and vandalism and an ESPN Outside the Lines report that focused on his past troubles including being accused of sexual assault at age 13. During his senior season Rucker matched both his sophomore and junior season totals at USC. The Bengals obviously realized his potential and used a high draft pick to select him. However, people are saying that the Bengals should not sign Rucker because of his questionable character.

Also in the mix is Bengals 2006 fifth round draft pick A.J. Nicholson, who was a Butkus award finalist, lead the Seminoles (yes, the same Seminoles!) in tackles as well as solo tackles in 2005. He recorded 17 solo tackles alone against Boston College. The Bengals drafted Nicholson because they knew he had the potential to be a valuable asset to a re-building defense, despite the knowledge of his troubles before the Orange Bowl – Nicholson was sent home prior to the game after being accused of sexual abuse. However, before he even signed his Bengals contract, he got arrested for breaking into a former roommate’s home. And once again, people are now saying the Bengals should not sign him, either. I could not disagree more!

We are left with the same question: with the recent trouble involving Chris Henry and draft picks Frostee Rucker and A.J. Nicholson, should the Bengals turn their backs on these young players that exhibit tremendous potential not only to give rise to the Bengals future, but to have great NFL careers of their own.

Henry, Rucker and Nicholson deserve a chance to prove they can rebound from their transgressions and perform up to expectations just as Janikowski, Moss and Carter and countless other NFL players have done. These players were given another chance and were able to make remarkable contributions to their teams and to the league. The age old question applies here, still. Do we humans really know what the future has in store? No! If the Bengals release Henry and they don’t sign Rucker and Nicholson, the potential in these players identified by the team may never be realized. How the Bengals handle the personal lives of these athletes is entirely up to debate. How these men handle themselves on the field is what we fans should be allowed to enjoy.

Are Troubled Athletes Worth Keeping?