Everybody's entitled to a mistake. In this land of second chances, which America's sports landscape has become over the last few decades, a couple of mishaps, if not forgivable, are a bit easier to stomach.
But after being irresponsible enough to commit three strikes, juvenile enough to exceed that number, then arrogant enough to surpass the bounds of stupidity by provoking police visits on 10 occasions, Adam "Pacman" Jones deserved what NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed him yesterday afternoon:
Banishment for the entire 2007 season.
Good riddance to Jones and to Chris Henry of the Cincinnati Bengals, who received an eight-game suspension. And to any of the asinine individuals foolish enough to follow in their footsteps.
Goodell did what any sane leader worth his salt would do to a subordinate lucky enough to play in the NFL instead of watching games from a jail cell. Goodell sent Jones home, took his money, and said, in effect, "Go throw $81,000 in cash at some strippers in Las Vegas now!"
It's sad that Goodell had to do this, but it was necessary. At a time when many are calling for the dismissal of radio shock jock Don Imus over incendiary comments he aimed at the women's basketball team at Rutgers University, how hypocritical would we be if it were OK for Imus to lose his job while Jones, Henry and others remained gainfully employed?
Felony and misdemeanor charges have been recommended against Jones, the Tennessee Titans cornerback, after a February fight and shooting at a Las Vegas strip club that left one man paralyzed.
"Your conduct has brought embarrassment and ridicule upon yourself, your club, and the NFL and has damaged the reputation of players throughout the league," Goodell wrote to Jones and Henry. "You have put in jeopardy an otherwise promising NFL career, and have risked both your own safety and the safety of others through your off-field actions. In each of these respects, you have engaged in conduct detrimental to the NFL and failed to live up to the standards expected of NFL players. Taken as a whole, this conduct warrants significant sanction."
Can I get an amen?
Goodell may have handed down the suspensions under the NFL's existing conduct policy, but I would not have cared if he pulled them out of the garbage.
For years, efforts have been made to get some of these athletes to acknowledge their responsibilities, to recognize that when they stain themselves, they are also staining their contemporaries in the NFL. And most players deserve more than having their names sullied by children allowed to wear NFL uniforms.
"We've got to do something to get folks to recognize that a vast majority of players in our league are good, law-abiding citizens," said Troy Vincent, a former member of the Eagles who is the president of the NFL Players Association. "And we've got to get the few bad apples to recognize that we won't let them taint the reputations of all the players in this league who are about doing good things, not just in the NFL, but in our communities."
Pacman Jones never came close to doing that, judging by the frequent visits he got from police in only two years in the NFL. Neither did Henry, who has been arrested four times in 14 months. So Goodell's decision was necessary, along with the announcement of a broader policy that includes heavier fines and suspensions for players and penalties for teams.
The best part of all of this is that Commissioner Goodell has the total support of the players' union, which sends the most important message of all: that the union won't stand up for the rights of individuals who use those very rights to abuse the system.
Just a week ago, this nation paused to celebrate the life of a great American, former Grambling State University coach Eddie Robinson. By this weekend, we'll pause again to laud the accomplishments of the late Jackie Robinson. They are alike in their accomplishments, in the trials they endured to achieve - and, of course, in the effort they put forth so individuals like Jones and Henry could have a chance. Not just to play, but to project a positive image to the African American community.
Jones and Henry have failed. As a result, Goodell wrote, "I must emphasize to you that this is your last opportunity to salvage your NFL career."
Considering Jones' and Henry's recent histories, this is more than fair.
For those who think otherwise?