NFL’s summertime idle hands stay busy in devil’s workshop

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.comJuly 3, 2013 

When Paul Brown was coaching the football team in Cleveland named after him, he began the first day of training camp with a lecture to the team’s rookies.

“Gentlemen,” he told them, “you’re going to be off Mondays and Tuesdays. Get a job.”

Brown suggested the players work during the fall. He didn’t need to stress how employment was necessary between football seasons. That was a given.

The Browns, like everybody else in the NFL, stayed busy this time of year. They sold insurance, drove trucks, repaired houses, worked on farms, tended bars, guarded banks, delivered packages — whatever they had do to sustain the relatively meager incomes they made playing football four months a year.

The great Jim Brown was an exception — his $85,000 annual salary was more than enough to make ends meet 50 years ago — but he, too, stayed busy as a Pepsi marketing rep.

I bring this up not as a part of a rant about how pro football was better in the good old days. It wasn’t. For those who participate and those who watch (especially those who watch at home), the NFL product has improved in every phase.

But progress has come with a price: An offseason marked by idle-minded men with time to waste and money to spend. No job? So what? Why seek a second occupation when the “full-time” occupation typically pays $2 million a year?

When Colts safety Joe Lefeged was booked last weekend on a gun-possession charge — that’s the shorthand version of the story; police say they smelled marijuana

in his car and found an open bottle containing vodka and orange juice, and that Lefeged tried to flee the scene — he became, according to U-T San Diego — the 31st NFL player arrested since the Super Bowl.

League spokesmen will grant you that 31 arrests sounds like cause for concern, but when considered in the context of some 3,000 players on rosters, it’s merely 1 percent of the NFL’s population. Add the fact we’re generally talking about males in their mid-20s whose chosen career requires aggressiveness and an ability to sustain violent collisions, it’s a wonder the rap sheet isn’t in the hundreds.

I get all that. And I get that attention on the league’s miscreants is intensified because Aaron Hernandez, a star tight end with the Patriots, has been charged with one murder and is a suspect in another shooting that left two dead last year. Remove Hernandez from the discussion, and the NFL’s 2013 Summer from Hell is no different than any other.

Still, I yearn for a return to that era when football players played football in the fall, and then went about their business until training camp convened the following summer. For six months, the world never heard about them, or heard from them. They stayed busy supporting their young families. We stayed busy following basketball and hockey and baseball and boxing and any other sport that got us through the night.

Now it’s all football all the time, an incessant, relentlessly meandering conversation about players — and, thanks to wonders of social media, between players — that has crossed the street from insipid to mind-numbing.

Everybody’s talking football because, hey, what else is there to do two months before the kickoff of a consequential football game?

When everybody’s talking — and everybody’s talking at the same time — words have a way of superseding thoughts.

Patriots receiver Deion Branch, who spent a few nondescript seasons with the Seahawks, offered this take on Hernandez the other day.

“Aaron is a great guy and a great friend of mine and a great teammate,” he told a reporter from the Albany (Ga.) Herald. “I love him to death, and it was shocking to hear his name involved in the situation.”

Shocking? Really?

When Hernandez was a freshman at the University of Florida, not yet 18, he was arrested for fighting with a bouncer at an off-campus bar. Later that season, he was questioned in a shooting that injured two men after a football game.

Last year, Hernandez was sued in a civil case by an acquaintance who alleged the Patriots’ tight end shot him in the face.

Shocking that Aaron Hernandez would be a suspect in a murder. Shocking.

On a lighter side, Richard Sherman, who always speaks his mind, made news this week for, well, not speaking his mind. Asked by the NFL Network about Jim Harbaugh, who coached Sherman at Stanford before overseeing the 49ers, the Seahawks cornerback answered: “I have no relationship with him. I don’t try to go any route with him. I don’t deal with him. He is not my coach.”

Given Sherman’s appetite for creating controversy, his low-key response was the equivalent of taking a knee. But even then it made for an enticing Internet teaser.

“Sherman on ex-college coach Harbaugh: ‘I don’t deal with him.’”

I’m among the many who regard Richard Sherman as lights-out as a cover corner, best in the business. And for sportswriters coveting a go-to guy in the locker room after a game, win or lose, ’Sherm is unrivaled. Again, he’s the best in the business.

So there: My admiration for Richard Sherman’s talent as both a player and all-around football analyst is on the record.

I just wish he had a second job, something to occupy him during the spring and summer lull. I wish everybody playing in the NFL had a second job.

Jim Brown, who belongs on the NFL’s version of Mount Rushmore, took on a second job when he didn’t need the money.

How did that turn out?

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