NORMAN — Two felony charges in one day were more than a bump in the NFL’s offseason. They pointed to an ongoing problem for the league — players who wind up at the center of criminal cases.
Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested Wednesday in Massachusetts, accused of murdering his friend Odin Lloyd. Also Wednesday, Browns rookie linebacker Ausar Walcott was charged with attempted murder in New Jersey.
Both players were cut later in the day by their teams. On Thursday, the league said any club that now wants to sign Hernandez will face a hearing with Commissioner Roger Goodell first.
The question now is whether the veteran tight end and the rookie should have been in the league at all.
“It is difficult, it’s always a balancing act,” says Tony Dungy, who won a Super Bowl as Colts coach and has served as a mentor to players since leaving the NFL, including Michael Vick after the quarterback served federal prison time for dogfighting. “The league has a security department that sends out information, and every team is different in terms of how much its scouting department does and what areas are concentrated on most.
“It’s really a matter of what you do with the information and what your organization feels is important. One thing you have to keep in mind is a lot of the (negative) things that happen come when they are 15 or 17 or 19 years old.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune, which has tracked NFL arrests “more serious than speeding tickets” dating back to 2000, has listed 36 this year, including Hernandez and Walcott and three players who were charged twice.
By comparison, the NBA says six players of its players have been arrested since last July 1, and Major League Baseball says it’s aware of three cases this year worse than a speeding ticket: two DUIs and a misdemeanor drug charge.
While granting that NFL rosters are far bigger than those in the NBA or MLB, Benedict says, “You can’t take these tiny snap shots and say the NFL is low.”
Of course, even a few cases such as Hernandez’s or that of Jovan Belcher — the Kansas City player who shot his girlfriend to death last December, then committed suicide in front of his coach and general manager — can create a widespread negative image.