Friday, August 24, 2007

Let the game begin – Richard O'Hagan

Imagine this. It is a couple of weeks before the start of a new Premiership season and David Beckham has been arrested, charged with animal cruelty. He says he didn't do it, but the four guys charged with him have confessed and implicated him. He faces a five year prison sentence and a huge fine.

Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand has been arrested so often in the past few months, he has been banned from playing for a whole season, John Terry is suspended until October after serving a jail term for having an unlicensed firearm and the brightest young star in British football, the one everyone wanted to sign at the end of last season, is refusing to sign a deal until he is offered better terms by the club that thought they'd got him back in April.

It couldn't happen here, could it? You'd like to think not - even if I am writing this in the week that Lee Hughes got out of jail after serving half his sentence for causing death by dangerous driving. Now substitute the names of Michael Vick, Adam 'Pacman' Jones and Terry 'Tank' Johnson and you are just scratching the surface of the fun and games that has been the off-season in America's National Football League.

Of course, having an off season of 6 months does help when it comes to finding time to generate scandal, but in all of the above cases the player concerned managed to do the damage during the season itself and has spent his time fighting afterwards. Indeed Johnson, at the time a defensive lineman for the Chicago Bears, had to get permission from a judge to even play in the Superbowl in February - before nipping inside for two months, a consequence of the firearms offence and a parole violation. Jones, many think, has been harshly dealt with, as the Tennessee Titan's cornerback hasn't actually been convicted of any serious offence - he's just been arrested for a heck of a lot of minor ones.

But it is Vick who is in the biggest trouble. One of the finest quarterbacks of his generation, he has - again as I have been writing this - concluded a plea bargain in which he will admit breeding and training dogs for dogfighting, and allowing them to fight on his land. He faces 5 years in jail and a very big fine. Which is actually a lot better than the federal racketeering charges - basically, a charge that he funded the dogfighting operation and the betting on it - he would've faced without the plea bargain.

Moreover, having served his time, Vick is very unlikely to play football again. This is partly due to the stringent code of conduct brought in by the NFL and their new Commissioner Roger Goodall. Step out of line with Uncle Roger and you are looking at a 10 game suspension, minimum. Moderation has never been a big element of American sport, but I doubt anyone would have anticipated the Goodall revolution. No offence too trivial, no suspension too long, seems to be his motto. And that is for things which happen off the field.

Of course, if you take 1800 young men and pay them upwards of £1m each per year [on average] then you are bound to get one or two bits of misbehaviour. Goodall can never have expected someone to do something as grim as he did. At the same time, the other 1799 can hardly have anticipated a man so puritanical, they are expected to make Snow White look like a slut. Imagine the outcry here if a Premiership player got a 10 match ban if they were convicted of a motoring offence? Jermaine Pennant would just be an expensive footnote in football history, that's for sure.

All of which leaves the Atlanta Falcons without a quarterback, the Titans without their number one kick returner and the Bears without the cornerstone of their defensive line. Out in Cincinatti, no fewer than 9 players have been arrested in the last 12 months and the entire team must be on tenterhooks. The only team cheering will be the Oakland Raiders, who finally got number one draft pick JaMarcus Russell to sign his contract less than 48 hours before the pre-season games began.

With all of this buildup, this has to be one of the most exciting NFL seasons ever. I've not even considered the chances of the Indianapolis Colts retaining their title, of the Bears recovering from their SuperBowl humiliation, and the damage that may have been wrought upon perennial favourites Tampa Bay by their signing of the mercurial Randy Moss, but I can't wait for it all to start.

20 comments:

Zephirine said...

What a good piece - sharply written, vivid and informative, thanks Richard.

mimi said...

And we complain about Matt Prior being a bit rubbish?????????

guitougoal said...

Richard,
Thanks for your fine article on the NFL.I don't think however an analogy with premiership stands.
"1 or 2 bits of misbehaviour"-! This league(nfl) has a history of crimes including wife beating, sex scandals, rape , cocaine abuse, and murders.
Except than NFL players are bigger, faster, stronger and may look better in their uniforms there is no possible comparison with the premiership football players. They look more like altar boys compared to the american football players and still they make as much or more money.

happy said...

Snow White WAS a slut.

he he he

grumpy said...

She was worse than that.

grmph

sneezy said...

Yeah, but she was OUR slut.

Atchoum!

dopey said...

What's a slut?

doc said...

Lads, stop bothering the pseuds and get yourselves home immediately.

And no singing!

MotM said...

Enjoyed the piece, but what kind of pseud's name is that?

I've always put down misbehaviour by American Team Sports players to the drugs they are obliged to take by their employers - is this not right?

levremance said...

Richard - I'd be interested in a run-down of the contenders and the pretenders in the NFL if you feel like turning your hand to it.

Guitou - the NFL has a "history of crimes" etc... surely a few players have that history, not the game or the league.

Mouth - TdF cyclists seem so well-behaved, how come?

guitougoal said...

Levre,
"not the game or the league"
where have you been ?..and why do you think criminal behaviour was a prime topic in the week leading up to superbowl XXXV?
I was not only referring to the last laws offenders as Mike Vick, Mark Chumura, Ray Lewis, Rae Garruth or Mark Ingram- But as I mentionned the league in general:
The actual NFL ALL EMBARASSMENT TEAM including Michael Vick= 22 names and each position can be filled-
There is even a website NFLcrimes.blogspot.com , this issue being such a concer for the league- And in case you are not conviced:

http://espn.go.com/nfl/s/2000/0201/329054.html

or
http://community.foxsports.com/blogs/bob260505/2007/01/23/NFL_high_crime_rate_steriod_users_no_big_deal

It is not realistic to consider that the same behaviour could be tolerated by the pemiership fans in England.

guitougoal said...

sorry, read:.-concern- and convinced-intead of concer and conviced...

levremance said...

Guitou - It seems to me that the USA has the best and worst of lots of things in the world (from my distant vantage point).

Is Canadian football similarly afflicted? Its a very similar game to American football, so if it were something intrinsic in the sport, you would expect similar results north of the border wouldn't you?

Personally I reckon its down to lots of money in the hands of young guys who aren't ready for it and think they're invincible and that can happen anywhere, including Europe.

guitougoal said...

Levre,
Yes, basically that's the consensus of opinion among the media, but what about the "don't have" kids, aren't they more excusable.
sorry about your last question, I don't know too much about canadian football.

MotM said...

Lev - TdF? Different drugs?

levremance said...

Maybe Michael Vick can try Aussie Rules when he gets out and yes it has been a slow afternoon.

levremance said...

Oh here's the link btw

http://www.sportsline.com/spin/story/10313698/2

better go home soon

walt disney said...

Richard,

I apologize for the behavior of the boys. You know what it's like with the little ones, gotta keep an eye on them at all times.

Still, nothing to worry about, won't happen again. The matter has been dealt with and they're back in the mine now.

guitougoal said...

hey walt disney pas moi! dis ce n'est or not disney I think you and your dwarfs should apologize to snow white.

Richard said...

Thanks for your kind comments, everyone. As I said, this is really just scratching the surface of the problems in the NFL. (For the record, I don't want to see Vick in the AFL, I just know he would end up at the Bulldogs with all the other villans)

Lev, I'll try and do a brief rundown before the season starts at the weekend - condensing 32 teams into something readable will be a challenge

Oh, and sorry about the name. I've got no problem with people knowing who I am. There's actually a slight typo in it anyway

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