The most heartfelt interview I mined from the Seahawks’ locker room last fall came courtesy of Anthony Hargrove.
You could see the sincerity in his eyes, and his profound appreciation of the privilege of playing in the NFL.
He talked at length about how much he cherished the letter he got from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Valentine’s Day 2009.
More than a reinstatement to the league’s good graces, it was written validation for all he had done to earn his way back; the symbol that he had overcome the frailties and addictions that had derailed his career and threatened his life.
It makes it difficult to imagine the depth of his feelings at being notified by Goodell that he is now being suspended for eight games for his role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal.
In a release Wednesday, the league said that Hargrove was among four players being punished – in addition to Saints coaches and administrators – for having participated in the scandal at a “more significant level.”
Hargrove came out and honestly admitted to the bounty system. But he reportedly obstructed the 2010 investigation, which likely played a role in his lengthy suspension.
In a written statement in March, Hargrove said that his late hit of Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre in the playoffs after the 2009 season – under league scrutiny – was in no way influenced by the incentive of a reward.
Hargrove’s story continues to be particularly compelling. Few would dispute that it was wrong for coaches and players to offer rewards for hurting opponents. The scheme was compounded by cover-ups.
So, it’s good to praise those strong enough to face their bosses and say, “No … this is wrong.” Tough decisions are the ones that reveal character, right?
But it seems that tough circumstances and his own faulty decisions had put Hargrove in enough of those situations already.
Talking to Hargrove in his corner cubicle that day last October, he recounted his history: homeless at age 6 because of a fire at the Brooklyn tenement in which he lived; orphaned at 9, when his mother died of AIDS complications; his beloved brother being shot to death in an unsolved crime.
Alcohol and drugs consumed him once he entered the NFL with the Rams, and continued after his trade to Buffalo. Repeated failed drug tests and off-field misbehavior led to suspensions and then 13 months in rehabilitation for substance abuse.
“I was running from those things a very long time and never really wanted to face them,” he said of his troubled youth that led to his addiction and depression. “I kept piling stuff on top of it and drowned it all with booze and other drugs, and I finally hit a breaking point where the bottom fell in.”
After Goodell reinstated Hargrove, the Saints were the only team to give him a chance. He played with such dedication and appreciation that his teammates voted him winner of the Ed Block Courage Award after the 2009 season.
When he joined Seattle early last season, he quickly became a team leader and motivator, the teammate players trusted most often to lead them in prayers.
“I think he’s a world-class man to know,” said fellow defensive tackle Brandon Mebane.
The Seahawks did not resign Hargrove as a free agent – insightful, as it turns out – and he was picked up by Green Bay. He may now appeal the league’s decision, but it looks like he’s once again facing suspension.
“It’s not been a smooth path,” Hargrove said that day last fall. “It’s humbling, and you have to humble yourself every day and know that every day is a rededication to doing what’s right.”
You can find excuses and alibis any time you start applying situational ethics. And it’s clear that going out to intentionally injure an opponent isn’t right. Ever.
But it’s easy to see why Hargrove willingly embraced the system in place in New Orleans and was so eager to repay the Saints for having been the team that gave him a chance to get back into the game.
Hargrove now pays a steep price as he awaits the next letter from the commissioner.
dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org