Today?s pros need to behave accordingly

The revelations read too familiar. Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Richard Collier was in critical condition after being shot several times while riding in the passenger seat of a Cadillac Escalade in the wee hours of the morning last week. Teammates, coaches and team officials spent countless hours beside their wounded teammate in the intensive care unit – some praying – while most of his family and friends were in tears. ‘

Collier is the third NFL player shot in the past 18 months. The other two ended in tragedy when Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor was gunned down during what police later said was a botched burglary attempt at his Miami home last November and Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was killed when his limousine was shelled with bullets after leaving a New Year?s Eve party at a club.

Such instances when an athlete ends up in life-altering situations have been a growing trend since the turn of the millennium and signs point that the dangerous lifestyles of professional athletes has no indication of slowing. Ballplayers of the sports world are creating their own version of the wild, wild west, or east, or whatever conference they play in. And once the dust settles, the ‘True Hollywood story’ is unveiled on what those troubled players really liked to do with their free time.

If it’s not safe-action pistols, it’s the lavish lifestyles they cultivate into where their heads follow soon after. It always seems to end in boatloads of alcohol consumption and then a DUI for idiotically getting behind the wheel. We see their exotic vehicles plastered against a wall and even a pedestrian they ran over en route to it. An athlete gets so trapped in his hash that he will stash urine into a prosthetic penis just to beat the drug-testing system. Blame it on the accessible amenities they purchase via multi-million contracts, adulation from across the globe, or the system itself, but a line needs to be drawn whether it’s called for or not. If the star of your respective league is out and about at 4 a.m., he is one of two things: a potential victim or a potential suspect. ‘

In response to the obvious problems, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has assembled a ‘zero tolerance policy’ ever since he took office prior to the 2006 season. Over the last two years, he and his staff have transformed the NFL’s code of conduct to the point where no infraction has gone unnoticed. As a result, the pool of players he watches over has constantly referred to the league’s acronym as the ‘No Fun League’. They play the card every chance they get whether it is for a reprimand resulting from a uniform violation, a fine for excessiveness celebrating after a touchdown or a suspension for exorbitantly ‘making it rain’ as part of an all-night extravaganza at the local gentleman’s club. ‘

The bad boy image from the pros trickles down to the college, high school and grade school levels as amateurs take after what their role models do on and off the field. A two-day stretch in November 2004 is evidence of the instantaneous resonation from the professional ranks over to the collegiate. After the ‘Malice at the Palace,’ when the most storied brawl in NBA history involving the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons took place, two NCAA football teams, Clemson and South Carolina, duked it out the following day on the gridiron in similar fashion.

After an initial showdown took place in warm-ups, over 100 players cleared both sidelines and ransacked the field in the middle of a lopsided fourth quarter. Helmets were chucked across the field, players chased each other faster than their 40-yard dash, recklessly shoving and tackling. Following the game, then-Clemson coach Bobby Bowden admitted that his players, predominantly’ between the ages of 18 and 23, were watching the NBA melee the night before, and it played a role.

‘For 24 hours they’ve watched that basketball fiasco on TV,’ Bowden said at the time. ‘That’s all they’ve watched.’

NBA Commissioner David Stern was the first to admit his league had a problem following a series of public relations’ hits to his league. As a wave of prep players and college freshman stormed into the league, the days of John Stockton’s thigh-high shorts were a foregone conclusion. Stern tweaked the NBA culture that had turned into 5XL-sized jerseys and shorts dangling around the shins to more of a business-like approach. When Stern indoctrinated a dress code policy for his players in 2005, the pros took offense to the fact that their oversized clothing and iced-out medallions would have to take a full timeout once they entered arena premises.

‘If they are really going to have a problem, they will have to make a decision about how they want to spend their adult life in terms of playing in the NBA or not,’ Stern boldly stated then.

Is it too much to ask from them? Can’t players dress accordingly, behave cordially and shine without the diamond-encrusted bling glimmering from their chest? The packs of malcontents downplay their mishaps as if they misused a dinner setup during a team banquet and got docked a game’s paycheck as a result. Fans should condone the NFL and other leagues for whipping its players into shape and holding the organizations accountable for the horrible personnel decisions they make. By preventing the hiccups, they ultimately present a better product. ‘

Although digesting the concept was strenuous, I realized that overlooking a player’s character issue and arsenal of unregistered assault rifles needed a change. On-field contributions would no longer be taken at face value, not from me at least. ‘

As Monday Night Football kicked off and my beloved Minnesota Vikings took on the nemesis Green Bay Packers, realization became reality when the left side of the Vikings’ offensive line had a glaring hole. The 6-foot-8, 335-pound Bryant ‘Mount’ McKinnie sat out the first of the four game suspensions he got for being involved in a nightclub brawl earlier this year.

The results leave Vikings nation and I worried. What if our power-running game gets shut down? What if our hobbled quarterback takes a career-ending sack from the blind side McKinnie was supposed to operate? What if fantasy football nerds lose weeks one through four because Adrian Peterson’s yards per game have been obliterated?

All of my questions were answered when I realized that the commissioner?s tough love prevents any of this from happening again in the future. And if it does, I just won?t see Peterson don the cover of every magazine next fall and McKinnie fans will be forced to buy his jersey from a discount rack once he?s rightfully released.