Sports hoodlums are finally getting their just desserts |

Sports hoodlums are finally getting their just desserts

Guy W. Farmer

Roger Goodell, who replaced Paul Tagliabue as commissioner of the National Football League last summer, is off to a fast (and most welcome) start by enforcing a new code of conduct designed to punish players who act like hoodlums and break the law. Such a policy was long overdue in professional sports and Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig should emulate Goodell by cracking down on the use of illegal, performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.

Goodell has already suspended three NFL players for all or part of the 07/08 football season and is investigating the possible involvement of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick in an illicit dog-fighting operation in rural Virginia. The three suspended players are:

• Tennessee Titans’ defensive back Adam “Pacman” Jones, who was suspended for the entire 16-game season after numerous run-ins with the law. Jones’ off-field conduct has included five arrests and 10 incidents where he was interviewed by police, the most serious of which was a shooting spree at a Las Vegas strip club that left one man paralyzed.

• Cincinnati Bengals’ wide receiver Chris Henry, one of nine Bengals arrested during a nine-month period, received an eight-game suspension for criminal conduct including domestic violence. Henry was arrested four times in 14 months and was benched twice by coach Marvin Lewis during that period.

• Chicago Bears’ defensive lineman “Tank” Johnson, who recently spent two months in jail for violating probation on a gun charge, was suspended for eight games for violating the new code of conduct. Last December, federal agents raided the 300-pound player’s home and found six unregistered guns, a probation violation. Not long after that raid Johnson’s personal bodyguard was shot and killed outside a Chicago nightclub.

“We must protect the integrity of the NFL,” Goodell said shortly after he disciplined Jones and Henry last month. “The highest standards of conduct must be met by everyone in the NFL … These players, and all members of our league, have to make the right choices and decisions in their conduct on a consistent basis.”

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How refreshing!

Although those three cases have received considerable media attention, they pale by comparison to allegations that NFL superstar Michael Vick is involved in a lucrative dog-fighting ring at a house he owns not far from where he grew up in southeast Virginia. According to Sports Illustrated, Vick’s rural home in tiny Smithfield, Va., is believed to have been the scene of bloody dog fights. Five outbuildings on his property are painted black – dog fights are usually held at night – and when investigators went to the property they found more than 60 aggressive dogs, some in kennels and some chained to car axles. “Too violent to be adopted,” SI reported, “the animals will eventually be euthanized.”

Although Vick denied knowing what was going on, two of his close associates told SI about the NFL star’s affinity for dog fighting and ESPN aired an interview with a confidential source who said he had seen Vick betting on his own dogs and called the Atlanta quarterback “one of the heavyweights” of the dog-fighting world, which has strong links to the so-called “hip-hop” culture so popular among professional athletes and young people in general.

That isn’t surprising because U.S. Humane Society (HSUS) officials assert that dog fighting is a multi-million-dollar industry with its own magazines, underground highlight DVDs and music videos by prominent rappers. “There exists a dog fighting subculture in the NFL and NBA (professional basketball),” says HSUS President Wayne Pacelle. “(Dog fighting) is a fun thing, like a hobby,” added an NFL player who was interviewed by SI. “Sometimes you just want to see how tough a dog you got.”

“I was very clear with Michael,” Goodell said after meeting with Vick in late April. “People living in your house and people on your property are your responsibility.”

Responsibility is a new word for spoiled millionaires who have been coddled throughout their athletic careers beginning in high school, or even earlier. If Goodell can put an end to that mindset, he’ll earn the gratitude of millions of parents and sports fans who believe that sports and good citizenship can go hand-in-hand.

By contrast, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is tiptoeing around his sport’s biggest problem: the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs by ballplayers including New York Yankee Jason Giambi and San Francisco Giant slugger Barry Bonds, who will soon break Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record. If and when that happens, Selig should join Aaron in boycotting the tainted achievement.

Meanwhile, a federal grand jury is still investigating Bonds’ alleged steroid use, which was well documented in a best-selling book by two San Francisco newspaper reporters. Just like those professional football players, Bonds should be held accountable for his cheating and possible illegal conduct. Sorry about that, Giants fans, but your pumped-up hero must play by the same rules as everyone else.

• Guy W. Farmer is a lifelong sports fan who lives in Carson City.