Monday, January 26, 2009

A Question of Character

By: William P. Tomisser

How far does Tim Ruskell's character test that his players must pass really extend? How serious is he really about making sure he only has good character players playing for him?

John McGrath has delved into the issue after Leroy Hill became the latest in a string of Seahawks players who have apparently stepped over the line. All but one are players who were on the Seahawks' roster when the transgression happened.

The problem is determining what, exactly, defines “good character.” Hitting a spouse or a girlfriend, it seems to me, is not consistent with good character. Yet the Seahawks’ roster contains two players – Sean Locklear and Rocky Bernard – who have served suspensions for domestic violence.

Failing a drug test, it also seems to me, is not consistent with good character. Yet the Seahawks continue to employ defensive back Jordan Babineaux.

An arrest for driving while intoxicated can’t be an indication of good character, but one of the reasons Hill could be considered expendable is that the linebacker position is a team strength, thanks to Lofa Tatupu. Last summer, he copped a guilty plea to a DUI charge.

Accumulating a rap sheet thicker than a Tolstoy novel, as Koren Robinson has done, definitely is not consistent with good character. The Hawks, desperate for healthy receivers, reacquired Robinson last season. They were pleased enough with his performance that he’ll be invited to training camp this summer.

Now we can add Hill's name to the wall of shame that maybe should be going up at the new Seahawks headquarters if we believe that the team has strayed from the pure intentions with which Ruskell started out.

To Continue . . .

The likelihood of another offense appears to be the difference between players like Locklear, Babineaux, Tatupu, Bernard, and Robinson, and players like Jeremy Stevens who was deemed not worthy of another chance. So far, the guys Ruskell kept haven't fallen off the wagon but Stevens did for his new team, proving Ruskell right on that one.

To be fair, Bernard is a free agent this year and it's entirely possible that he's not going to be retained. How much of that might be because of the incident he had last year versus the way his play has dropped off the last three seasons since the Super Bowl year in 2005 may never be known if he's not re-signed.

Many Seahawk Addicts readers have commented that you can't be too aggressive in pursuing squeaky clean prospects or you may eliminate all but the milquetoast variety of player from your roster. Sometimes, you need that player with an aggressive attitude and mean disposition to settle the disputes in the trenches that arise every time the ball is snapped. Some of those players with the big aggressive play carry baggage.

The trick is to be able to distinguish between those players who just made a mistake and are unlikely to repeat the offense and the ones who are just wired that way and will always be at risk of having moral lapses and therefore damage the organization that employs them. As McGrath points out,

It could be argued that Bernard and Locklear had no previous incidents, and that they deserved a second chance. Same with Babineaux and Tatupu. And it’s clear Robinson is a changed man – a case study in the wonders of rehabilitation.

But the question persists: What defines good character? The question persists because some of the most upstanding citizens are capable of acts of pettiness and deceit, and some of the most despicable thugs are capable of bravery and poise in a crisis.

It looks like Tim Ruskell needs to look at each case individually and determine which type of man he's dealing with--one who made a mistake that he's not made before and is truly remorseful that it happened, or someone who has been there before and hasn't learned his lesson or, worse yet, just has that bad streak in his makeup?

The good thing here is that as we analyze his actions since becoming Seattle's GM, it looks like his character rule is more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule. That should assure some people that we're not going to let a valuable player slip past us because he's made one mistake in an otherwise clean past.

Even a player who had a history of repeating mistakes but is able to finally get himself clean and on track can be given another chance. I would have almost bet money that Koren Robinson wouldn't be invited back after Holmgren left the organization as his protector, but apparently, according to John McGrath, Koren will be back in training camp competing for a roster spot this summer.

With some of the top potential draft picks having concerns ranging from minor academic problems to more severe infractions that resulted in expulsion as well as, for example, having a roommate who sold cocaine and not reporting it to authorities, it's hopeful that our GM isn't going to just automatically disqualify all those blue chip players without giving each one a chance to explain his side and investigating the circumstances surrounding those events thoroughly.

John McGrath sums up his article by saying that Ruskell should either tell Hill that he's not wanted any longer in Seattle or open up the gates and abolish his good character stipulation:

All I know is this: If Leroy Hill isn’t told that he’s no longer wanted in Seattle, then Tim Ruskell needs to stop talking about character. If the behavior of a potential draft choice raises red flags, pick somebody else.

However, earlier in the article he puts the Hill situation in perspective:

Some perspective is in order. Falling asleep at a busy intersection has its hazards, not the least of which is arousing the road rage of drivers who aren’t in a forgiving mood so early in the morning. But on the menace-to-society scale, falling asleep in a parked car at 4 a.m. isn’t nearly as dangerous as speeding through a school zone at 4 p.m.

First of all, it's a misdemeanor. He only had a small quantity of pot. There's no evidence that he's a reckless person who doesn't have a high regard for other people's well being or was selling drugs. Without proper tests (which weren't done), all the evidence is circumstantial anyway except for him being asleep at the wheel at an intersection.

I think this is a situation that Tim has to take in the same regard that he did Tatupu's DUI arrest and take the fact that Hill's never done anything like this before into account. He should give him the same sanctions he previously gave to Tatupu and/or Babineaux, who both had substance abuse violations. Hill is a valuable part of our team and I take a different viewpoint to John McGrath. I say if you're going to get rid of Hill for this violation, Tatupu, Babineaux, Locklear, and Rocky should all pack their bags, too. Robinson shouldn't be allowed near training camp.

If you're going to have a hard and fast rule, it should apply to all equally. If you're going to take the good character proclamation as more of a guideline, you have to examine previous policy that's already been set according to that guideline before deciding on the latest case.

Ruskell's good character rule seems to actually function more like a very good guideline where exceptions should only be made on a case by case basis and only after thorough investigation. We've made exceptions already for players who had worse transgressions than Hill's. I don't think that Hill's case is where we should draw the line. The line was quite a bit further out in the Stevens case, and I think after careful consideration Ruskell will do the right thing here, too.

How do you Addicts feel about the good character policy that Ruskell has employed since taking over as GM? Is it being used to good advantage by allowing for some slack where there are extenuating circumstances or transgressions that aren't too severe? Should it be loosened further, tightened back up, or is it used well enough as it is? Tell it like it is, fellow Addicts.


Bill T