Hobson's Choice: Character the question

Q: I don't think Bengal fans should sound the alarm on the bad boys draft picks in recent years. There is no doubt in my mind (who) controls this team - Marvin Lewis. I wonder however in your time covering the Bengals and NFL in general why have there been so many "knuckle head university" types in the league today. Has the college culture changed? Like the trend towards versatile defensive players (LB/DE), there seems to be a trend of reckless or arrogant players coming out of college league wide. Your thoughts?
**--BILL E., Dayton, Ohio


        You filed your question before wide receiver Chris Henry's latest arrest this past weekend,  but it has been the question of the offseason, hasn't it? We've always seen the same type of "knuckleheads" around sports, but we just didn't hear about it so often. You can't tell me there have been bad boys only since Lawrence Taylor and kffl.com.  It's like politicians and sex. It was happening long before Matt Drudge.

Thanks to the internet and cable news, all the wrong moves of every college and pro athlete is covered from training wheels to training camp, and with all that time to fill, it doesn't go away until the next DUI. Throw in the withering 24-hour scrutiny of talk radio, a product of the alternative '80s, and you wonder how George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt would have got elected in this day and age, never mind making it to Mount Rushmore.

(Hey Willie, this is Ralph from Anderson Township. How can a guy who is sterile and got zits be the father of our country? And Lincoln's an ugly nut job, right?)

Not to mention the chat rooms.

Modern news cycles need the transgressions, and they've been there long before Joe Willie Namath bought Bachelors III.

I digress, like a cable TV debater with talking points avoiding the issue. Sorry.

Nothing, of course, absolves these guys. The way they react is ridiculous and this stuff shouldn't be tolerated.

And I think you have to say there has been a change in culture. Let's face it. It's a looser, more free-wheeling society than it was 30 years ago, where strip clubs are advertised on the radio and prime-time TV has turned into strip clubs. What has always been a win-at-all-cost society has simply upped the ante in a culture based on dollars and cents. Hey, reality TV is based on no rules.

Does that mean kids are less disciplined and feel more entitled? I'm not smart enough to know, but you'd have to say we some problems in that area, and not just in sports.

That's why you almost have to laugh at the moral surprise and outrage now being spewed at Marvin Lewis and the Bengals when you look at where pro sports is right now.

FACT: NFL coaches are judged solely by wins and losses and turning around programs and are paid millions to do all of the above.

FACT: Colleges lure players to their campuses who don't even come close to fitting the admission requirements and then send them out into society when they are totally incapable of coping.

What do you expect from an ESPN-look-at-me-dunk-push-button-DVD-Pod-1-800-HATE-YOU culture laced with images instead of reality? We see the problems every day. Don't act surprised when they show up here.

Look, I get it. You want your team to be clean and I don't blame you. It is and should be about character. Lewis and the Bengals have to make better decisions in the draft room.

But a major mistake being trotted out by the national media is that they don't have enough scouts to find out what they need to know about the hidden past of prospects.

The Bengals knew about the problems of Henry, Nicholson, and Frostee Rucker before they drafted them. Certainly enough to know that they discussed them for weeks. You don't need seven West Coast scouts to type Google. Plus, NFL Security has lengthy files on players who have been in the legal system and update each team.

Having enough information isn't the debate. The debate is what to do with that information. Should you draft guys who have had problems? Do you do what at least three teams did with Nicholson and erase him from their draft boards before Draft Day? Do you have to adjust your belief that you're a good enough coach that you can make the questionable kid do what he hasn't done yet?

That's the debate. And it's no doubt a debate that Marvin Lewis has having internally himself and others inside the Bengals for much of this offseason.

But look at how we're living now in the 21st century. If it doesn't work with some guys, you can't incinerate a man with Lewis' character as he tries to win and field a team of good citizens as well.

A couple of days after rookie linebacker A.J. Nicholson allegedly broke into his college teammate's home, Lewis had Calvin Johnson speak to all the rookies with no one knowing Nicholson was about to be charged.

Johnson is the Western Hills High School head coach who doubles as a Cincinnati police officer on the third shift in District 3 and is a SWAT team member. Lewis thought it would be a good idea for the kids to hear Johnson talk about how he has seen the good go bad and how they are so much in a fish bowl now that they are in the NFL.

A hell of an idea on a tough landscape.

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