Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pacman Jones, Mike Vick, and Barry Bonds: Examples that Reputation Counts

Listening to sports radio talk shows these days, I've come to a realizations. Many pro athletes are morons. Perhaps in reference to the athletes themseleves, the term "moron" may be too rough. I just feel that saying "poor decision maker" doesn't quite justify some of these guys and their actions. So where do we start?

Well, let's begin with Pacman Jones. A gifted athlete that is dangerous whether it's playing defense or returning kickoffs. A player that can turn a game around with one play. But Pacman just can't seem to stay out of trouble. Jones has been questioned by police regarding 9 different incidents since he became a Tennessee Titan in 2004. That's nine DIFFERENT incidents. And this isn't just that the guy has a lead foot, and has been clocked running 90 on I-40 on several occasions. These are issues involving guns, assaults, and traffic violations.

A few weeks back, Jones met with NFL commissioner Roger Goddell to determine what, if any actions should be taken as a punishment for Jones' off the field conduct. Basically, Goddell handed down a year long suspension, guaranteeing at least 10 games that Jones won't play this year, and there's a good chance that he won't play any at all. Heck, many NFL analysts think Jones will never see the field again, not in an NFL uniform anyway.

Now, to the Pacman's credit, he hasn't been convicted in any of those 9 incidents. It could be a mere coincidence that he was near, in, or around 9 separate criminal incidents since 2004. I doubt it. His latest incident involves claims of him assaulting a stripper at a nightclub in Las Vegas. While he has yet to be charged in that, just the fact that accusations are being brought against him is suspect enough. And just a week before his meeting with Goddell, Jones took out a full page ad in the Nashville paper saying how he learned his lesson and he was a changed man and all that other cliche stuff you say when you know you're about to get in trouble. And just where could you find Pacman the night before his big interrogation with the Commish? That's right. A New York strip club.

Sound like a case of "some people never learn"?

Michael Vick is another case where issues just keep popping up. Never mind the flipping off of the fans in Atlanta after a Falcons game, or the airport "incidents". Vick is now accused of playing a part in a dog-fighting ring.

Can anyone please tell me why a man making 9 figures feels the need to play part in a dog-fighting business that's probably not paying much more than a few thousand bucks a fight? And I'm not trying to insinuate it's all about the money here. Dog fighting is egregious and despicable. And if Vick isn't directly involved with it himself, why is he even associated with people who are? Vick has yet to have a sit down with Goddell, but my bet is that the Commish won't be happy, especially if more comes out of this dog-fighting incident.

Then we come to Barry Bonds. A man many would describe as the best player of this generation. The problem is, we'll never know how much he would've done were it not for the help of steroids (don't act like he didn't take them). Bonds is 10 homers away from tying Hank Aaron's record, but even Hammerin' Hank doesn't think Bonds is legit. And who does? He's never failed a test or admitted to "knowingly" taking steroids. But because of the person he is, and the demons from his past, the accusatory finger atuomatically points to Barry.

Is that fair? Is it fair for any of these athletes to be judged without even being convicted of wrongdoing?

I'll say with resounding confidence...yes. It's called reuptation.

It's not only true of sports, but the business world in general. If your reputation precedes you as negative, if it labels you with misgivings of your past, then you must deal with it. You put it on yourself.

If you're the head of a big corporation looking to hire a new sales guy, and that guy has been accused of cheating on his wife and maybe fudging numbers at a previous job, do you think he'll get the job, or the guy who comes in with a squeaky clean character? Seems obvious. You want the guy without baggage. You want to hire someone who won't let you down, and if they do, they'll be blindsiding you. it won't be something you thought could happen going in.

This goes for athletes as well. If you've earned a specific reputation as a partier, low work ethic, and problems with relationships say, in a college environment, it will no doubt affect you at the next level. Sorry, but I don't want the quarterback fresh out of college who has a DUI and will likely show up to training camp 15 pounds over the weight limit. I don't care if he won the Heisman or not.

We all have reputations. Some of us try to uphold them, some try to recover from them. But we've got to expect that even if the things we did were in the past, they're still there. And if those actions, those few moments of poor judgement come back to haunt us in the future, we can only blame ourselves.

So it's time for these (and others) athletes to take responsibility for who they are and what they've done. It's not the media's fault, it's not your dad's fault, and it's not your friend's or your girlfriend's or your teammate's fault. You built your life, and it's your decision to destroy it or succeed. It's something we all have to do. It's called growing up.