There have always been bad actors in professional sports, and it’s not just OJ’s stints on the Naked Gun movies. Its all about athletes who make the news for all the wrong reasons. Crime, abuse, drugs – you name it, it happens. Then, Ray Rice happened. And everything changed.
Before that fateful altercation, any time a player was accused of “getting into trouble,” the NFL or the team involved would issue the same blanket PR missive. They hoped to gain a foothold on the national conversation before ESPN put them on blast. Things are different now. Teams are scared to wait before making a Real Statement, so they are falling all over themselves to rush to judgment.
Take, for example, the recent story of Brandon Ivory, a standout defensive line prospect who is currently facing charges of burglary in Alabama. Most folks don’t even know any of the facts of the case yet, but the Houston Texans already cut the undrafted rookie free agent before they could be found guilty by association.
Would things have been different if Ivory was a blue chip player with potential to immediately start? Probably, but his is still a cautionary tale. Top tier professional leagues – and even some top college programs – are under too close a microscope to find themselves tarred and feathered along with offending players.
Both Ivory and his agent claim he is innocent and, more to the point, legally, he is innocent until proven guilty in court. The Texans don’t care. They just don’t want to end up on Sports Center for this. And they also don’t want to have to pay a player not to play until the trial is decided. That could stretch on, which would mean endless weeks of questions from media involving commentary on TV and radio from sports talkers wondering “just how long” Houston will continue to pay a player not to play. Fans just love that, of course.
Just how much will this new dynamic change the Way Things Are in the NFL? Well, for top tier players, probably not much. Teams will invest in paying them not to play unless what they have done is so horrendous not even dedicated sports fans will tolerate it. But for everyone else, there’s no more room for error. The one-strike rule is in effect.