NFL showing vulnerable side

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

The National Football League is a world of glitz and glamour, filled with the privileged and the chauffeur-driven. But this week it has shown its starker, meaner and more vulnerable underbelly.

First, came tragic news of the suspected suicide of Denver wide receiver Kenny McKinley, there was the continuing meltdown of Brandon Jacobs and then yesterday came news Jets‚ star receiver Braylon Edwards had been arrested for driving with twice the legal limit of alcohol.

Meantime, Reggie Bush, who became the first player in history to return the Heisman when he was fingered for accepting financial benefits contrary to NCAA rules earlier in the week, broke a bone in his leg. And, two weeks into the season Carolina’s Matt Moore and Buffalo’s Trent Edwards are no longer starting quarterbacks. The NFL isn’t big on job security.

While the million dollar contracts are highlighted daily and while pro athletes live a pampered life it is also a fragile existence. The average pro athlete is here and gone within 21/2 to four seasons, depending on the sport or league.

“If the public understood that 78% of athletes two years out of the game are either bankrupt, divorced or unemployed, they would have a much graver understanding of how difficult this lifestyle is,” Bob Lamonte, a player agent, educator and member of the board at New York University noted recently.

While the spoils of sport are reality for elite athletes, so is the price they pay for fame, including drug, alcohol abuse, depression and financial ruin.

There has been no explanation from authorities regarding McKinley’s death. But the stress of a profession that hinges on constant performance and public scrutiny exacts a toll.

McKinley was on injured reserve for a recurring knee ailment at the time of his death. He was reportedly experiencing depression and was also going through financial issues. Stress is one of the leading causes for depression.

McKinley’s agent, Andrew Bondrarowicz evidently connecting the dots, told the Denver Post: “These guys, they’re made of steel on the outside. But for a lot of them, the challenge of being at your best and living up to all the expectations is a difficult situation.”

Edwards has been taking a different, but equally dangerous, road to self-destruction.

Edwards caught a touchdown pass and two-point conversion on Sunday in the Jets‚ victory over New England. But that was overshadowed by a taunting penalty he received after his touchdown. That earned harsh words from coach Rex Ryan. “I love the way he played ... but you’re killing us,” Ryan told reporters. “You can’t put the team in that kind of jeopardy. I appreciate how passionate he is, but you don’t want to be selfish. That’s basically what that is.”

Edwards is quickly becoming the poster boy for the spoiled brat, egomaniacal athlete who has never met a rule that applied to him. Formerly with the Browns, he was arrested in 2009 for punching an acquaintance of LeBron James outside a Cleveland nightclub. He pleaded no contest, received a $1,000 fine and was still under probation for that incident when he was charged yesterday.

“There’s nothing going on in Cleveland,” Edwards recently said. “There’s no real estate. There’s no social life, no social networking. All the people who have something going on leave Cleveland. So Cleveland has nothing, and I came in there with a New York-type of essence. So what? That was the attitude I came in with. Like, this is who I am. They didn’t like the flash.”

That flash can be intoxicating. He’s not the only NFL player, or even the only Jets player, who has stepped across publicly accepted bounds. Teammate Santonio Holmes is serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

Antonio Cromartie had fathered seven children from six different women and was late on $25,000 in child-support payments when San Diego traded him to the Jets. To help Cromartie, the Jets fronted him $500,000 of his $1.1 million salary. Maybe they should’ve just given him a box of condoms and a pamphlet on family planning.

But when the lights dim, when the crowd noise dies and when the cheques stop coming, what’s left is often loneliness, fear and an uncertain future. A broken leg, a doctor can mend; a broken mind or spirit can be deadly.

Dolphins‚ running back Ricky Williams recalls a time before he was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. He’d think about getting something to eat the Wendy’s then just drive home because it meant interacting with other people. “Guys would ask me at practice the next day what I did the night before and I’d think, I went from my kitchen to my living room to the bedroom.”

The limelight. It brings joy. It brings wealth. It can also bring darkness, even death.

Peanuts offence

First there was no Ben Roethlisberger. Now Dennis Dixon is done, perhaps for the season, after undergoing surgery to repair ligaments in his left knee.

But it won’t matter who the Pittsburgh Steelers have at quarterback with the defence they’re throwing at teams.

One week after keeping a talented Atlanta offence in check, Pittsburgh forced seven turnovers, had four sacks and held Titans RB Chris Johnson to 34 yards in a 19-11 road victory and limited Vince Young to 66 yards passing and a seat on the bench.

James Harrison led the charge with two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Charlie Batch or Byron Leftwich will start this week but let’s face it. They could throw Charlie Brown out there and still have a chance of winning.

Quick hits

Broncos activated running back Andre Brown from their practice squad to back up Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter ... The youth movement in Carolina goes well beyond Jimmy Clausen, who gets his first start at quarterback this week. He’ll be throwing to rookie wideouts David Gettis and Brandon LaFell ... Jake Delhomme’s high ankle sprain means Seneca Wallace gets a second start at quarterback ... Colts receiver Anthony Gonzalez will be sidelined 4-6 weeks with a high right ankle sprain ... The Bills don’t expect guard Andy Levitre to miss any time because of a stinger ... Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Matt Hasselbeck is still the team’s starting quarterback despite throwing three interceptions last week and 14 over his last six games dating back to last season ... the Redskins have cut running back Larry Johnson who had just five rushing attempts through two games ... 49ers’ Frank Gore, who shredded the Saints with 168 total yards, yet lost. “We whupped their behinds up and down the field. They can’t stand up with us.” Maybe, but it still makes them no better than the best 0-2 team this side of the Vikings and Cowboys.

bill.lankhof@sunmedia.ca


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