The NFL estimates that about 20% of their players come from “at risk” backgrounds.
“At risk” being players have backgrounds where various forms of criminal activity, physical and/or sexual abuse, and or violence have been “normalized” by their life experiences. Their “bios” as they call them, have all of the usual characters, single-parent households, an absent father or father figure, poverty, access to poor or subpar educational opportunities, dysfunctional family, neighborhoods dominated by gang violence etc.
These players are considered “at risk” because their life experiences put them at high risk of continuing these type of activities even after they are in the NFL.
We have seen several cases of this in recent years. Remember former Ravens RB Jamal Lewis who use his cellphone to try to set up a cocaine deal for a childhood friend? How about Bears WR Sam Hurd who tried to parley his NFL career into becoming a drug kingpin in Chicago. And who can forget my personal favorite Dallas Cowboy Offensive Lineman Nate Newton who was caught with 213 pounds of marijuana in his car because the rear end of his vehicle was spitting parks all over the road because the bumper couldn’t get off the ground with a 300 pound Newton and all of that marijuana in the same back seat.
And these aren’t even the violent crimes.
I haven’t even mentioned the NFL hopefuls like Cass Tech High School’s QB Jayru Campbell who did jail time for body slamming a security guard and then assaulted his girlfriend for taking his cellphone on the VERY DAY HE LEFT JAIL for slamming said security guard.
Well if the NFL goes forward and creates a zero tolerance policy towards these types of crimes as well as the violent crimes like domestic violence and child abuse, this will undoubtedly make drafting the “at risk” player far too risky of an investment for NFL teams to make. There is no way that an NFL team is going to pay a player $700,000 a game to sit at home because of some off the field violation of the NFL’s new zero tolerance policy that they could’ve seen coming ahead of time.
And it’s precisely that, the desire to come up with a formula to help them predict the future that worries me.
Many of the players that come from these “at risk” backgrounds credit their involvement in organized athletics with being the ONLY reason they were able to make a better life for themselves and their families. They recognized the opportunity that their God-given talent, hard work and sacrifice could provide and made the best of it.
We can’t forget that even with all of the high profile incidents of late that the NFL has had to deal with, the overwhelming majority of these men who come from these backgrounds have no problems at all with staying clean.
Not everyone in the NFL has a cousin who runs and operates a dog-fighting league.
I am in total support of the NFL doing whatever it takes to protect the game from elements that would destroy it from within, but I just hope that whatever metric NFL owners uses to determine who is or who isn’t “at risk” is a lot more complicated than simply looking at what area code they grew up in. If only for the sake of the vast majority of players that come from these very same area codes but manages to stay clean, and use athletics to become better men.