Recently there have been a string of incidents involving drugs, sexual abuse, violence, or other tragic misdemeanors that force professional sports teams to ride a fine line of morality. It seems to me that every week something new crops up, threatening to dismantle the very fabric of the games we love to watch. Here are five players that have recently dominated the news feeds for things they shouldn’t have done:
1) Jarret Stoll
The New York Rangers surprised the hockey world on Monday by taking a chance in signing on the 2014 LA Kings poster child for misbehaving – Jarret Stoll. In April, Stoll was arrested in Las Vegas apparently in possession of cocaine and ecstasy. In June he pled guilty, and thus begins his rehab, at least in the eyes of the NHL. At a contract of one year, $800,000, the Blueshirts get a fairly decent player at quite a low price. Perhaps he’ll be suitable adequate for the team on their journey towards a Stanley Cup. By that time, the sting of drug abuse and the fallout with the Kings will be far behind him, which is interesting. Stoll’s case is not a huge one, but drugs like these shouldn’t be taken lightly either.
Two years ago, Mike Ribeiro found himself in a difficult spot after being bought out by the then Phoenix Coyotes – a sexual assault case and substance abuse were following him as he tried for one last redemptive chance in Nashville. The Predators lucked out when Ribeiro flourished, but every article written about him has the tagline “as long as he doesn’t fall back on old habits”. I’m not saying Stoll will find himself in a bad way by October, but it’s a shame that he even found himself here in the first place. Having won both of the Kings’ Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014, Stoll is no stranger to the limelight. In an Original Six city he’ll find it even brighter, but he may be able to hide behind the shadows of Ryan McDonough and Derek Stepan to start. I’m hopeful that this story will turn out to be a good one, much like Ribeiro’s, but he’ll still have the unfortunate stigma trailing behind him for the rest of his career.
2) Aldon Smith
Right before the weekend, the NFL had a case unfold that was similar in some ways to Stoll’s – linebacker Aldon Smith was arrested Thursday on charges of a hit-and-run, driving under the influence and vandalism. By lunch time Friday, the San Francisco 49ers had released Smith, the only remaining back from their 2011 Super Bowl team. The 25-year-old Smith is a bit of a repeat offender, having misdemeanors ranging from “illegal possession of an assault weapon” to “possession of marijuana” to “being belligerent and claiming to have a bomb at LAX”.
After all this, it’s not entirely surprising the 49ers released Smith, but the team will be in worse shape for it, much like the Kings will likely miss Stoll. Similarly, in fact, rumors flew on Monday that Smith might be picked up by the football equivalent (meaning they’re actually good) New York Giants. Of course the Giants are looking at him – their own top linebacker blew half of his hand off on Independence Day. He’s also been linked to the Chiefs and the Seahawks. Smith is a bit younger than Stoll, so he has more time to recover his career, but if history has told us anything in the past two years, anything violent is not tolerated (unless you’re the Cowboys) and you could be blackballed.
3) Jenrry Mejia
Right before July faded, the New York Mets were in a bit of a spiral. The trade deadline brought Yoenis Cespedes and his wonderful bat to a matchup with the Washington Nationals that ended with the teams switching in the NL East standings. Lucas Duda went on a tear, Daniel Murphy recovered from simple mistakes to make great plays, and the pitching was as solid as it’s ever been. Even Bartolo Colon turned in a gem in Florida. The one blight that hit the team right before this upswing was with reliever Jenrry Mejia. Mejia had already been suspended 80 games for testing positive for stanozolol, an anabolic steroid commonly linked to several players using PEDs. Sure enough, Mejia had returned for only a few weeks – just enough time to watch how well Jeurys Familia was faring as replacement closer – before being suspended again for the same steroid, this time for 162 games…a full season.
A gut reaction calls for immediate release here as well, where Mejia can find himself in the same place as all these other players that have been discarded to try and redeem themselves across the country. The Mets will surely be fine, as they had signed Tyler Clippard the day before news broke (the team supposedly found out with the rest of us, so Clippard wasn’t even brought over to replace Mejia). It will be interesting to see where Mejia goes, but like all the rest of these bad boys, help may not come from upper management.
4) Tom Brady
As I began writing this article, the trial commenced in New York City over the infamous Deflategate, in which New England QB Tom Brady reputedly released air from game balls while facing Indianapolis in the playoffs. Severe implications can arise from this, in my opinion, and I don’t think they all have to do with Brady. Surely his star has been tarnished, but Tom Terrific will likely fare fine by the end of his Hall of Fame worthy career. Whether you like him or not, even after this debacle, I truly believe there are other players out there that have done similar things. We’ve heard of other scandals involving superstars, such as Lance Armstrong or Tiger Woods. How many times had Brady done this before he was finally caught? Do we really believe this was a one time thing, he honestly slipped up, fearful of losing to a debatably lesser team?
Media scrutiny plays a large part in the overall scheme of all these situations, and with someone on the level of Tom Brady, every moment is in front of a camera. Sooner or later Brady was going to make some kind of mistake and be leveled for it – all celebrities tend to have backlash. I’m certain he did something wrong, and will serve his suspension with gritted smiles. Tabloids have already begun to run stories of drama between him and wife Gisele Bundchen, only fueling the fodder their audience devours. When this whole thing settles, will anyone be better for it? Brady will still play for New England and likely make at least another run or two at a fifth Super Bowl. The Patriots will live on as if nothing ever occurred, thankful for erroneous coaching overshadowing the final moments of Super Bowl XLIX. The Colts will be bitter, but fans will forget with time, save for the traditional rivalry that already stands. Casual onlookers will move on, especially when the media moves on to the next flavor of the month. So will anyone in the NFL actually be culpable?
5) Patrick Kane
As the Chicago Blackhawks have been passing the Stanley Cup from place to place all summer, it was supposed to land in Buffalo, New York to spend time with another superstar – Patrick Kane. Over the weekend, reports came out that a sexual assault occurred at Kane’s home, and the usual media circus entailed. Both sides of the story have been fairly tight-lipped, though that hasn’t stopped casual witnesses from speaking their minds. Earlier today EA Sports pulled Kane from the cover of their upcoming NHL 16, where Kane was seen lifting the Cup with teammate and Blackhawk captain Jonathan Toews. Due out September 15th, EA has merely removed Kane from the covers while Toews remains.
I find it difficult to have a truly enlightened opinion on this particular case, because I don’t want to assume anything. For every Duke lacrosse team rape case that was erroneously reported (they jumped to conclusions, which has led to the heavy stigma never being fully lifted), there have been dozens of Steubenville situations, where social media was the catalyst for bringing actual rapists to justice while their sports-blind neighbors convinced themselves nothing wrong had occurred. Will this be the case for Kane? We’ll find out shortly. Sometimes we can only hope our heroes aren’t at fault.
So what’s the price of fame, really? Can you get away with anything you want, like Kane might, or Brady practically already has? Or will the future hold redemptive stories like it has for Mike Ribeiro, Michael Vick, Alex Rodriguez and Dany Heatley? I wish I knew what might happen to all these athletes, but the sad certainty is that they won’t be the last young people to find themselves in the spotlight, only to shoot it out.
Spot Starters (weekly notes and links):
- Pittsburgh kicker Shaun Suisham has ripped his ACL and is out for the season. Is it just me or is this type of injury becoming more of a problem? Maybe there’s a certain number of inevitable injuries a year and between the big five sports, I just hear a ton more about it now than I did when I was younger.
- While the NHL continues its slow but flashy march towards Vegas, the NFL are plummeting forward with “talks” about moving one or two teams to Los Angeles. Both the Rams and Raiders originated in the city, but moved to St. Louis in and Oakland in . It seems likely that some team will end up there by 2016, and while the Raiders and Chargers have a dual plan to reside in nearby Carson, there’s still word that the Chargers might remain in San Diego. Who will end up where? Will it matter if Seattle keeps winning Super Bowls?
- QB Geno Smith had the Jets-iest thing happen to him yesterday – linebacker IK Enemkpali sucker punched Smith and broke his jaw. Smith is now out for 6-10 weeks, forcing the Jets to likely begin the season with Ryan Fitzpatrick as lead passer. Thus starts “Just End the Season” – a new team watch I’ll be adding periodically to Good Sports in order to highlight all the bizarre happenings within the New York Jets organization. I love Gang Green, but I’m expecting plenty of fodder for the column this season.
- Incidentally, as I wrote this week’s article, Enemkpali was reportedly claimed by the Buffalo Bills and former Jets coach Rex Ryan. Good luck to that, sir, but you can add the linebacker to my list above of immediate problem players that were subsequently redeemed by another team.
- In other sports news, the coolest thing happened in baseball yesterday, at least if you’re a stats nerd like me.
- As for Phil Kessel, the start to his career in Pittsburgh is getting off to a wonderfully laughable start. I don’t know why so many people pick on the poor guy, but at least he’s out of Toronto, where they’ll have to find someone new to burn in effigy.
- Will I ever talk about the NBA? Stay tuned for next week, maybe I’ll give you something.