I'm not one to think of Bryant Gumbel as philosopher or statesman, but when the man is right, he's right. And that's what he was when he weighed in Tuesday on the Reggie Bush situation at the end of his "Real Sports" program on HBO:
"I'm no legal expert, not by a long shot, but I do believe that driving drunk, robbing a convenience store and hitting your girlfriend are all worse offenses than dealing with an agent," Gumbel said, noting that the University of Florida's football roster includes players - 27 of them - arrested for these offenses just since Urban Meyer took over the program.
"That's right, by NCAA standards, 27 arrests merit not so much as an official reprimand. But dealing with a prospective agent prematurely, as former (USC) Trojan Reggie Bush did, gets your program punished for four years," Gumbel continued. "And it's not just about Florida. Players at Pittsburgh, Missouri, Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Southern Mississippi, UCLA and elsewhere have also been arrested this year. But all of those programs are, by NCAA standards, in full compliance."
If you're wondering who's allowing all this, who encourages it, who pays for it, the answer is as close as the nearest mirror - this is your fault, sports fans. You've been tolerating and excusing this behavior, pretending it's not the norm, and financially supporting it with your purchases of tickets, team apparel and your viewership that supports the game on television.
Worse yet, many non-fans pay for it against their will, through welfare programs for millionaires (think subsidized stadiums).
Personally, I love sports, but there's too much overlooking of bad deeds there. I gave up for the most part on the overpaid criminal class that passes for professional athletes long ago. The poster children for my decision all were in the news in one season just a bit less than 15 years past, the last in which I called myself an NFL fan:
Byron "Bam" Morris, running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is arrested in Texas with a trunk full of marijuana, and gets probation and a fine (as I'm sure you or I would in the same circumstance, right?). At least the Steelers had the sense to cut him loose, but three other NFL clubs didn't.
Michael Irvin - now a Hall of Famer and dancing star - also arrested on possession charges, but despite entering a no contest plea, allowed to return to football after a mere five-game suspension. He's had several similar run-ins with the law since.
Lawrence Phillips, who was allowed into the NFL despite his violent behavior at Nebraska, also took the no contest route after his then-girlfriend - a basketball player at the school - accused Phillips of beating and kicking her and dragging her down several flights of stairs by her hair. He missed all of two games for the Cornhuskers, and the folks there elected the coach who thought that was an appropriate punishment to Congress.
Bad behavior by NFL players is nothing new - I recall another Morris, the Miami Dolphins' Mercury - and it has continued since: Ray Lewis and his murder charge, Donte Stallworth's DUI manslaughter incident (for which he did a whopping 24 days in the slammer), Lawrence Taylor's issues with drugs and underage women - heck, by the league's standards, Plaxico Burress shooting himself in a nightclub seems minor by comparison.
Football isn't the only sport where thugs and criminals have a home. But thanks to the people paying for it - and with the NCAA giving colleges a green light to teach their athletes to behave this way - they don't have any reason to change their behavior.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.