The NFL's Character Issues

Submitted by ChampionsofThe… on February 20th, 2015 at 1:01 PM

I'm a big Michigan fan, and also a big fan of the NFL and the Lions.  I wanted to follow the NFL combine to see how Devin Funchess, Jake Ryan, and Frank Clark do.  Like many people, i read about the "newly important" personality tests, that will supposedly be of great value to NFL scouts. The importance and value of these tests has increased due to the large presence of domestic violence cases in the NFL this season.  I just don't believe scouts will really value these tests, and don't believe that they understand the importance of character in a football player.

Our late great coach Bo Schembechler, whom my father actually played for in the early 70s, understood character.  He valued every player on the team, from all-american to walk-on.  Coach Schembechler would actively work towards building character in every player on his teams.  He would personally go to bars on friday nights and do night checks in every player's room, to make sure their lights were out at 11:00 pm.  Coach Schembechler once said "When someone uncovers a scandal in their company, I don't think they can say, "I didn't know that was going on." They're just saying they're too dumb to do their job! And if they really are too dumb, then why are they getting paid millions of dollars to do it? They know what's going on.” 

What Coach Schembechler was saying is that people have to take responsibility for all their actions.  He was saing that if someone screws up, they have to on up to what they did, and if they don't, they don't deserve to play at a higher level.  Now, i see that Frank Clark is blaming his domestic dispute on his girlfriend.  What Clark said goes against Coach Schembechler directly. If Coach Schembechler had found out what Frank Clark did, or what Brendan Gibbons did last year, he wouldn't fret over them, just to win a few more games.  He would kick them off the team on the day itself!  You don't see a lot of football coaches like Coach Schembechler anymore.  Nowaday's, coaches are preoccupied in winning more than character, and that's a huge problem.

Nowaday's, with the exception of this season, coaches play players who get into problems.  They don't spend enough time to get to know a player, so they don't know if he has good character.  A great example, albeit not a recent one, is Eugene Robinson.  The night before Super Bowl XXXIII, Robinson won the Bart Starr award for "outstanding character and leadership both on and off the field."  He solicited a prostitute that very same night.  While any other person would be in jail, Robinson was allowed to play, and played awfully.  His falcons lost, and he would go on to return the award.  Coaches don't spend enough time evaluating the character of their players; they just want to win.

I'm disgusted that Frank Clark got invited to the Combine.  If you read the police reports, his domestic dispute looked especially heinous.  While he's taking personality tests, Devin Gardner is going to be working out and doing everything he can to be drafted.  Devin Gardner deserved the invitation that Frank Clark got, but now has to sit at home, getting texts from Jake Ryan and Devin Funchess about the combine.  Heck, Devin will probably be working out when those guys are doing drills at the combine.  Guys like Devin, who have great character (most notably what he did for J.T. Barett) aren't rewarded for character.  They have little chance of getting drafted, and try their hardest in their limted amount of time with scouts, but still aren't rewarded. Roger Goodell hasn't made any of this better.  He promises that the NFL will represent a higher standard, and that he will try to fix these issues that we've seen in the last year, but the only thing that's come about from this are these personality tests.

The NFL has huge issues with character.



February 20th, 2015 at 2:00 PM ^

Sadly, as you pointed out in your first paragraph, the reason why Clark was invited to the combine and Gardner was not stems to the fact that the NFL does not give a damn about player character. As long as you can perform on the football field and make the NFL money, then you'll have a job. The only reason that players of  questionable character may not be as successful in the NFL going forward is not due to the fact that the NFL are looking for players with better character, but that the publicity of negative actions may cost the NFL money. 


February 20th, 2015 at 6:04 PM ^

I'm with you in a general sense, but I don't think it's any different than any other job, especially in the entertainment industry.

To change gears a little bit, if Wall Street got together and ranked the top 300 prospects coming out of undergrad, is it inconceivable that a guy with a domestic violence charge or a solicitation charge would be invited to their "combine"? Doing a quick search, Chris Brown has sold over two million albums in the US alone after his Rihanna related arrest. Roman Polanski directed The Pianist, won an Oscar and grossed $120m while unable to leave France due to his legal situation arising from drugging and raping a thirteen year old girl in 1977.

I agree it's frustrating, but I don't think the NFL or professional sports has a monopoly on having assholes and/or people who have done messed up things in their life being welcomed with open arms and given multi-million dollar paydays.


February 21st, 2015 at 10:26 AM ^

This reflects my thinking ... this is not isolated to the NFL.

As others have commented, the NFL cares about the character issue only insofar as it affects their business bottom line.  Individual NFL owners or executives might care more, but collectively the NFL self-interest is in their business success.  Ditto Wall Street; ditto the movie industry; ditto practically everything.

Re: the OP comment about people needing to take responsibility ... agree, but in contemporary culture that message is at best obscured, and at worst contradicted.  Sadly, there's a rather strong overall message of disconnecting consequences from actions.

Individuals (such as some football coaches) try to teach responsibility for actions, but they are fighting against a very, very strong headwind.


February 20th, 2015 at 2:17 PM ^

It is obviously troubling that Frank Clark is at the NFL combine due to his recent actions, but it's hard to get that worked up over the unfairness of life anymore.  I want to get mad, I really do, and I respect people who still feel passionately about these injustices, but I'm just too beaten down, too jaundiced by the hypocrisy of sports in general to not understand that Frank Clark has a better chance of making a football team better than Devin Gardner, and that's why people are willing to take a chance.

And while you point to Eugene Robinson, that really isn't even that bad of an example.  Check out Leonard Little's if you want to see a real WTF example of ignoring transgressions.

And while I'm sure Bo tried to instill strong moral character in his players, there were undoubtedly bad seeds in his groups of players, just like every other team in the history of Michigan football.  It might be an unpopular sentiment around here, but I think everyone really pretty's up the past when it comes to players, mostly because during a bygone era lots of bad stuff remained out of sight, out of mine due to limited media coverage.  Obviously Frank Clark should be punished and nothing excuses his behavior, but "bad guys" didn't begin or end with a certain coach or year.  And that in no way invalidates your father's experience or the ideals of former coaches, only that this argument that Coach A would have handled a situation different than Coach B is taken out of context, with all the warts of Hoke being compared to an idealized vision of Bo.

Thanks for sharing, though.  Don't want to crap on the point of your post (which I agree with).


February 20th, 2015 at 2:44 PM ^

I didn't know about Leonard Little.  It's crazy what he did, especially after recieving the ed block courage award.  NFL players are supposed to be role models, a point which i should've mentioned in my post.  NFL players have to set a good example for children, who look up to them.  Two examples are O.J. Simpson and Ray Lewis.  While Eugene Robinson and Leonard LIttle committed their crimes after recieving an award for their character, O.J. and Ray Lewis were star players.  Everyone knows their name, and i'm sure generations of kids looked up to them, at least before they committed their crimes.  You have a good point about Bo, but he did it differently than other coaches.  Bo suspended his starting kicker the day before the Ohio State game because he found him at a bar!  Bo kicked two guys off the team because they signed with agents before they even started their senior seasons!  I was just saying that you don't see coached like Bo anymore.  Bo almost disregarded money, as he turned down a contract offer from Texas A&M which would've made him the highest paid coach at the time, and gave all of the money from sponsorship deals and his weekly TV show to his assistant coaches, and their kids college funds!  You won't see a coach like that anymore.


February 20th, 2015 at 3:18 PM ^

I'm an Eastern Michigan graduate and Michigan fan but lately due to my photography activities, I've been following Eastern much closer.  I'd like to think that we picked up a coach that will treat character on the same level as talent.  At the beginning of the season, three Eastern players were involved in an incident with a relative of one of the people accused of killing Demarius Reed.  those people were promptly kicked off the team.  Apparently, he also has a no swearing policy and seems to be a pretty stand up guy.  But sadly, he seems to swimming up the stream against coaches who flaunt the NCAA.....


February 20th, 2015 at 5:35 PM ^

It's great to hear about a coach who values character over talent. We definitely need more coaches like that, and I'm really hoping Jim Harbaugh brings strong values to Michigan. However, I realize that it's different for Eastern. They're a small school that usually has a losing record. They're in that Appalachian state area when it comes to them being in the FBS. Coaches of smaller schools will get away with this kind of stuff because there's not as big of a difference when it comes to player ability. That being said, I appreciate what Eastern's coach is doing, and hope some more coaches do what he's doing

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February 20th, 2015 at 3:53 PM ^

We checked into WJR (a far different station then) all day in hopes Bo would stay home.  He did and we celebrated.  That said, don't misunderstand.  Bo got paid.  

As for kicking kids off for signing with agents, he had to! they were ineligible.   Follow the link though and you'll see what Bo really did right during that debacle.  Cheers and Go Blue.…


February 20th, 2015 at 3:46 PM ^

that bad publicity could effect its bottom line.  It hasn't.  The celebration of Michael Irvin and the initial handling of the Ray Rice situation is all you need to know.  If Clark was good enough he'd get lots of chances to make mistakes off the field.  Who cares?  It's the NFL.  I haven't paid much attention to it for 20 years.

I also worship at the Church of Bo, but let's not overstate things.  Of the football players I knew while at M some were great guys and some were complete assholes (BTW Leroy Hoard was a great guy).  "Character" is more than not abusing women or avoiding blow.  It's being a solid guy.  Even Bo's influence couldn't cleanse many of these guys of the temptation to be jerks when they owned the campus.