Arrests don't bother players 

December, 18, 2006
There's a terrific article in this week's ESPN The Magazine by my colleague Dave Fleming about how the Bengals have dealt with all their off-field troubles and why their eight arrests this year don't matter inside the locker room. It's an important point to explore. You hear players all the time saying that they don't care if their teammates get arrested, but specifically why it's irrelevant is actually fascinating. Simply put, outlaws are easier to fix than loudmouths. Some teams worry more about guys like T.O., who never shows up on the police blotter but constantly undermines the organization, than they do players who inherently respect the boundaries of the team dynamic but can't help but get tossed in jail during the after-hours.

After watching Chicago's absurdly unimpressive overtime win over the Bucs, I look at the Bears and wonder how Lovie Smith has kept this pack together, like I wonder how Marvin Lewis has kept the Bengals together. The Bears have had lots of player problems this year, which to an outsider could blow up a team. And yet, days after all the bizarre news regarding Tank Johnson, Bears leader Brian Urlacher addressed the media by saying, "We don't have any distractions except from you guys." Exactly. See, what keeps the Bears together is that no one from the offense called out the defense against the Bucs, and no one from the defense called out the offense during the previous month. That could fracture a team. That could impact the energy they put into winning. That could impact the basic faith teammates require in each other. That could call for a players-only meeting, and that would be a distraction.

Arrests matter in life, and what it takes to live a quote-unquote successful life doesn't always assist in winning football games. News of an arrest simply means that the coaches will need to find another player to insert into the scheme and meanwhile say little publicly until a decision is made on the player's future. Inside the Bears' locker room, it's probably a bigger concern that Smith had such little faith in his offense that he elected to run out the clock with 77 seconds left instead of empowering his young quarterback with the chance to rally his team to a regulation win.

I'm not saying it's right. It's just the way it is.