Bengals’ coach: Draft the jail-
birds or there’ll be nothing left

Dec 19, 2006 5:33 AM

Let’s see now. Which of the noble doings in professional sports in recent days should we use to inspire the young scholastic and collegiate athletes of the nation.

How about the eighth Cincinnati Bengal to get in trouble with the law this year?

Or perhaps Terrell Owens spitting in the face of Atlanta Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall.

Or the travesty at Madison Square Garden last Saturday night, which, if New York press reports are verified, could cost New York Knicks’ president and coach Isaiah Thomas his job.

Any one of these inspirational acts will do, but just as bad are the mealy-mouthed responses of the people who are supposed to be running things in professional sports.

The Bengals first.

The team has become a national joke, with eight players arrested since the end of last season. The most recent transgressions involved receiver Reggie McNeal, a rookie on and off the field, who got involved in a brawl outside a night club and was arrested for resisting arrest, and cornerback Deltha O’Neal, nabbed for driving under the influence.

You might think someone would get thrown out of the game for a season or two, but the coach of these guys, now being called "the Mean Machine" after the jailbird team in the movie "The Longest Yard," has a different view. Marvin Lewis told Cincinnati reporters, plaintively, that "I can’t hold their hands 24/7, and then added, "I don’t care what they say nationally. I don’t think you guys attack me because you know what I stand for."

What does Marvin Lewis stand for?

Plenty. He was responsible for personally hand-picking this crew of carnage. They are his choices, and he has to live with them, and bear the brunt of their blunders.

A good example is wide receiver Chris Henry, drafted last year. Since then, he has been arrested four times, twice pleading guilty — in separate states — to carrying a concealed weapon and possessing marijuana. The NFL, in response to this conduct, barred him for playing in two games this year. What courage!

Or try this one for size: A. J. Nicholson was thrown off Florida State’s team before the Orange Bowl last year because of alleged sexual shenanigans in his hotel room. It is not easy to get thrown off a Seminoles football team, but Nicholson made the grade. Knowing this, and despite it, Marvin and the Bengals drafted him, and Nicholson responded in gratitude last June by being nabbed on burglary and grand theft charges.

Marvin, asked about all the criminal high jinks, said "these things socially are not right," but at the same time he rejected the idea of the NFL barring from the draft anyone who had tangled with the law. "You’d have very few guys left to draft," he said.

In Atlanta, Terrell Owens, he of the Tarzan build and mind to match, was in headlines again, spitting in the face of the Falcons’ DeAngelo Hall. Hall said, "I lost all respect for the guy," noting, seriously and apparently not realizing the humor, "That’s like the number one thing in the NFL. You don’t spit in another grown man’s face."

Then there was the Knicks and Nuggets disgrace in the Garden, in New York Saturday night, one that must have left righteous David Stern quivering on his commissioner’s throne. It brought instant replay remembrance of two years ago, when the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons had at it in the Palace at Michigan’s Auburn Hills.

That one sent Ron Artest into inactivity for the rest of the year. This one is being written about here before the NFL’s punitive action is known, but 10 players were tossed out of the last minute of Saturday’s NBA game.

The New York press suggested on Sunday that the whole episode may have been triggered by the Knicks’ coach and president, Isaiah Thomas, ordering a hard foul in frustration for the Nuggets playing their stars right to the end of a game already clearly won. Sucker punches were thrown, one by the league’s leading scorer and current darling, Carmelo Anthony, on Mardy Collins, the Knicks’ rookie who collared J.R. Smith of Denver as he was driving for an easy score. Whether it was Collin’s own idea or his coach’s, it was a flagrant foul that led to mayhem.

So much for this week’s edition of Sportsmanship, USA.