INDIANAPOLIS _ The character of the culture is to hold on to a clich for well, a rainy day, no matter how old. So while the Bengals continue to be a punch line for any athlete that visits crime upon society, the numbers say their off-field problems have slowed to a virtual standstill.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh noticed this week when they met for Goodell's annual meting with the players advisory council during the scouting combine.
"It's simple," Houshmandzadeh said. "Players don't want to get suspended. They saw what happened, and you get suspended. That's what has done it."
Houshmandzadeh was one of the players that got called to Indianapolis two combines ago when Goodell convened his first conduct seminar. Amid the backdrop of the Bengals' spate of 14 arrests from December of 2005 to January of 2007, and the PacMan Jones problem, Goodell gathered players, some owners, and head coach Marvin Lewis to discuss the issue and begin putting teeth in the policy.
This week at the combine, Lewis put a great deal of the Bengals' problem on wide receiver Chris Henry's four arrests from December of 2005 to June of 2006, and former middle linebacker Odell Thurman's repeated violations of the NFL's substance abuse policy that has him suspended indefinitely.
"A lot has been made about two players. Unfortunately they brought a shadow to use for three years," Lewis said. "I looked at it in the case that I've never seen two people like that who were so irresponsible with their careers. I do think clubs are more cognizant. Playing here is a privilege and not a right. The values I have havent changed."
But after serving a four-game suspension to start the season under the conduct policy Goodell crafted with help of the players, Henry hasn't been involved in any incidents. His hiring of a Cincinnati agent seems to be the symbol of a more stable lifestyle.
David Lee, a University of Cincinnati graduate who works with the Cleveland-based PlayersRep Sports Management, lives in the Cincinnati suburb of Wyoming.
"I think it helps a lot that I have connections in the community," Lee said. "The people I want to surround him with, people like his financial guy, his accountant, are in Cincinnati and they want him to succeed. That's what it's all about. I believe if you have high expectations, he'll want that."
Lee advised him to head to California this month to throw with quarterback Carson Palmer and last year's rookie receivers, Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson. Five days after the recommendation, Henry packed up his family and went west. He's expected back a couple of weeks before the offseason program starts at Paul Brown Stadium at the end of March.
Lee is looking at the calendar and if Houshmandzadeh leaves in free agency, Henry's five seasons becomes second in wide receiver seniority to Chad Ocho Cinco's nine.
"I mentioned to him that's going to happen one day sooner than he thinks and he's going to be one of the veterans that has to take the younger guys under his wing," Lee said. "He's going to be the guy setting the example, setting the tone, and he's going to have to act like the elder statesman.
"In his comfort zone, he's quiet, observant. He says what he has to, but the way I read (the media coverage), he was angry. But he's quite the opposite. It takes a lot to make him angry. He made bad decisions in the past and people are riding him for it. He's moving on."
According to ProFootballTalk.com's Turd Watch that has documented the arrests of all NFL employees since February of 2007, eight teams have finished ahead of the Bengals in each of the last two seasons, according to the web site's standings.
Each team is awarded a set of points for each charge, as well as each conviction. For instance, the Bengals had 15 points in '08, all of them connected to rookie defensive tackle Jason Shirley's DUI in Fresno, Calif., during his last college season.
Since the Bengals drafted Shirley with the charges pending, they got the points for the arrests, and then the ensuing November convictions of DUI and hit and run.
According to PFT's list of '08 arrests, half the teams had at least three mentions. Shirley accounted for two and the third, Henry's arrest for assault and criminal damaging, was dropped.
Henry was cut after the April 3 incident, but was brought back in August despite the opposition of Lewis.
"I believe it's a combination of two things," said Goodell this week of any improvements. "Education and discipline. I think players recognize that their position is going to be high profile and they don't want to be put in that spot. They dont want to be perceived that way.
"We always forget. These are young men. If you look at the general population, everybody makes mistakes, not just this population. Mistakes are going to happen. Our point is to do everything we can to minimize those. If we can eliminate them, that would be great. I'm not that nave."