Smith worth gamble

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:17 AM ET

They trotted out platitudes about second chances and redemption yesterday on Maroons Road, shortly after an infamous young man with a troubled past put his name on a Winnipeg Blue Bombers' contract.

It's really about one chance and the Bombers took it.

Yes, at 25, Onterrio Smith is already a three-time loser in the NFL's drug testing program. Yes, he tried to circumvent testing by using a device called the Original Whizzinator and earned public humiliation when he attempted to take the fake penis contraption through airport security.

Yes, he was suspended for all of last season by the NFL, a ban which has been mysteriously extended through October, and yes, he's facing a civil sexual assault lawsuit in Minneapolis, where he once played for the Minnesota Vikings.

But he's a good guy who has cleaned up his act, the Bombers contend, and he deserves another opportunity to get his life and career back on track.

GAMEBREAKER

Especially when he has the potential to be a game-breaker, who can immediately improve a team with hopes of playing in a Grey Cup in its own back yard come November.

"We're all about second chances," Bombers GM Brendan Taman was saying yesterday. "The way we look at it is we're going to try to give the kid a chance to rejuvenate his career."

We're not saying the Bomber motives are impure, but this is more about the Bombers being opportunistic than anything. They are capitalizing on their one and only chance to get a bona fide NFL running back into a Blue and Gold uniform.

It's in their best interests to believe he is reformed. Besides, if they didn't sign Smith, someone else would have.

So they got his name on a deal and now they have to listen to the amplified argument that the CFL should honour NFL suspensions, that the league should not be a dumping ground for the NFL's problem children, that it should have an effective drug-testing policy of its own.

They'll also hear the jokes about a player whose passion for pot has cost him dearly.

Taman figures its a small price to pay.

"Ethically, hey, it isn't condoned by us," Taman said. "And if he comes into practice every three days and he's half-buzzed and he doesn't know what he's doing, well obviously he's not going to be with our club. I don't believe that will be the case when he gets here.

"The kid is a genuine guy that believes he's screwed up. He's been in rehab seven of the last 12 months with his problem, so he's trying to do the right thing."

Whether or not professional athletes smoking weed is really that big a deal is an argument for another day. Today, what people want to know is if the Whiz Kid -- who rushed for 1,123 yards in 27 career NFL games -- has turned his life around to the point where he can be a big help to the Bombers.

He's certainly saying the right words.

YOUNG AND CARELESS

"It was basically (just being) young and careless," Smith said via telephone from Marina Del Ray, Calif. "At the same time, for me to be in the position that I'm in now, I would say that it was a problem with the marijuana, yes it was.

"There's so many things that I've learned over this past year. I have grown so much as a man, as far as taking on more responsibility with my kids, becoming more of a family guy. I was a 22-year-old kid that had come into the NFL, that came from a background that wasn't too good, so I was kind of taking things for granted and I kind of lost my hunger along the way. But I figured out football is what I want to do and this is my life and I'm going to push at it for however long as I can."

Those kinds of words are what got Taman excited about bringing Smith north of the border.

If he needs to find his way in football, why not start right here.


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