Challenging stereotype of troubled players
July, 17, 2013
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com
AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Darryl DyckSeattle's Doug Baldwin participates in a number of youth camps each offseason.Third-year Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin woke up Saturday morning and readied himself for one of the kids camps he champions.
Quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch were among the Seattle teammates doing a similar thing elsewhere.
Baldwin, 24, would first take a morning run through NFL headlines, including an item I'd written citing alcohol as a common thread in a string of recent incidents involving NFL personnel. It's been a rough few weeks in the NFL along these lines. The Aaron Hernandez murder trial stands apart from DUI arrests and lesser incidents involving questionable judgment, but all of them cast the league, and specifically its players, in a negative light.
One could get the impression NFL rosters are filled with questionable characters inciting mayhem. That's tough for players to hear when many of them are doing just the opposite without generating headlines, commanding air time or inviting analyses making sense of what all the charitable efforts say about them.
"If you guys ever wanna talk about all the amazingly positive impactful things the players do, let me know," Baldwin tweeted in response.
Fair enough. Before speaking with Baldwin on Tuesday, I reached out to NFC West teams for a closer look at what their players are doing in their communities and beyond.
The short list included Sam Acho promoting medical care in Nigeria through Living Hope Ministries; Patrick Willis' involvement with foster youth through Unity Care; various 49ers embracing kids with Down syndrome through Football Camp for the Stars; and Vernon Davis giving away art supplies and separately promoting autism awareness through AchieveKids.
There was Nnamdi Asomugha taking at-risk kids on a scholars tour to Stanford and Cal, Colin Kaepernick helping kids with heart defects through the Against All Odds golf tournament, Lynch's Family First Foundation weekend in Oakland, Wilson's football camps in five Washington cities and Richard Sherman's softball game benefiting veterans through Helping a Hero.
There was Golden Tate's golf tournament benefiting cancer survivors through Gilda's Club, Jeff Fisher's softball game benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project and other charities, the St. Louis Rams' annual playground building project and Sam Bradford's work as honorary chair of the 2013 Komen St. Louis Race for the Cure.
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonRams coach Jeff Fisher hosts an annual softball game that benefits a number of charities.
There were nine Rams players supporting services for the homeless through a paintball fundraiser, Rams rookies promoting services for special-needs kids through Team Activities for Special Kids and too many other examples to list them all.
But did you hear the one about the linebacker cracking his teammate over the head with a beer bottle?
"Society has a stereotypical mindset about the typical NFL player, that they have money and are reckless," Baldwin said. "A lot of the players don't have the money these top guys make. On top of that, most of the guys in the league aren't getting in trouble."
The NFL cites federal data that suggests arrest rates for players are about half what they are for the general population. Factors differentiating players from the general public complicate efforts to compare the numbers straight across, but the evidence does not seem to validate player stereotypes Baldwin says he encounters regularly. His thinking is that negative news sells, positive stories can feel too much like public relations and the resulting media imbalance creates a distorted view.
Baldwin, a Stanford graduate, thinks the problems NFL players create for themselves tend to be human and societal, not specific to the league. He points to brain research suggesting that the parts of the brain affecting judgment remain somewhat undeveloped until about age 25. This research shows young people in general can be more apt to engage in risky behavior even when they know the dangers. The pressures and opportunities associated with the NFL could come into play as well.
"I'm not making an excuse," Baldwin said. "Guys will make stupid decisions because that is human nature. To categorize it as an NFL problem or an athlete problem is wrong. It's a human race problem -- not a problem, but a factor."
The league points to its Rookie Symposium and team-sponsored efforts to steer players on the right path. Teams hire former players and others to work in player-development roles, but delivering the right message might not be the biggest challenge. Sometimes there is no substitute for the wisdom that comes only with age and experience. How many of us have sat through mini-lectures from parents and other authority figures thinking that what they said wouldn't really apply to us?
But wait, here we go again. A piece acknowledging the good with the bad is in danger of focusing on the bad. Baldwin had his fill of that over the weekend.
"I woke up that Saturday morning and always check my tweets, and there was so much negative stuff," Baldwin said. "Granted, a lot is going on, but a lot of positive is going on too. I was waking up that morning to do a kids camp and several other players were doing the same thing. It was just frustrating. We're trying to make a good name for NFL players."