When an NFL team acquires or keeps a player who gets in trouble off the field, there’s a predictable and cynical response.
That cynical response is not wrong. The NFL is a business and the business is better when you win. If a player has exceptional value on the field, things get overlooked. That’s never going to change in the NFL. When Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon gets drafted later this offseason despite punching a woman in 2014, the reaction will be familiar.
That’s what makes Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown’s comments to Paul Dehner of the Cincinnati Enquirer about cornerback Adam Jones, who was arrested in early January, so interesting. To hear Brown tell it, he liked and cared about Jones and his family too much to dump him for an embarrassing arrest that led to some pending misdemeanor charges (a felony charge was dropped).
“You are dealing with people’s lives here. It’s easy to sit on high and say, ‘Oh, terrible, terrible. Let’s bring down the sword,'” Brown told the Enquirer. “I think that’s an overreaction. I’m not condoning his actions. They were in all honestly embarrassing. He was out of control. He misbehaved. He made a fool of himself. No one knows that more than he does. I don’t know that I have been perfect in my lifetime, either.
“But I hope it ends up that he gets his life back and he has openly apologized. He knows full well what he has done to himself. He regrets it. But it’s been made into a public issue and maybe I am overly tolerant. If so, so be it.”
It’s rare to hear an owner take that angle. The playbook generally is to deflect by saying the legal process has to play out, or generally just talking around the issue until it goes away. When Mixon is drafted, or some other player gets in trouble off the field, you’ll recognize the dance teams do around the fallout.
And if you want to roll your eyes at Brown and think he’s being disingenuous, that’s fair. We’ve heard so many bad excuses from teams when they excuse poor off-field behavior, it’s hard to take any of it seriously. But Brown’s reasons seem genuine. He had a long comment to Dehner describing Jones’ prematurely born daughter, how Jones would drive to the hospital from practice and how she has grown up to be a healthy 5-year-old.
“To me, that is a story that registers,” Brown said. “I would say this point blank: Am I looking to harm her? I’m not. It’s a bigger picture than one incident. And I get to be the one that sits in the chair to decide that. So I have chosen to decide it the way I am deciding it.”
It’s not exactly an easy or popular move to defend Jones. He had a long list of off-field issues early in his career. In this latest incident, he was accused of assaulting a man by pushing him and poking him in the eye, refusing to enter a police car and allegedly spitting on a nurse at the jail. He is also seen on a police cruiser video saying to an officer, “I hope you die tomorrow.” It was an ugly look.
Brown would have been justified, and perhaps even celebrated by some, for cutting Jones right after his latest arrest. Perhaps the football side of it, where Jones helps the Bengals from the cornerback position, played into it more than Brown is letting on.
This much is true though: Whether Brown is right or wrong in his defense of Jones, you won’t see many executives defend a player the way Brown did with Jones.
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