Last week’s draft broadcast shed a spotlight on an issue that needs to be stamped out at a young age.
Because it always happens with the “character concerns” crowd, I wasn’t surprised to see ESPN mention video of a then-high school aged Jeffery Simmons, seen punching a woman who had attacked his sister, right after he got drafted. I was surprised to see just how much of his post-draft segment — pretty much the entire thing — was devoted to showing that clip and talking about it and Trey Wingo discussing the importance of doing so in a somber tone.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been. It doesn’t even matter that Simmons has publicly apologized for the incident and, by all accounts coming from his college, conducted himself like a model citizen at Mississippi State. He got drafted around the same time an audio recording of Tyreek Hill threatening the mother of his child went viral, not too long after a video of Kareem Hunt getting into a physical altercation with a woman at a hotel cost him most of last season and part of the upcoming 2019-20 season, and just a few years removed from Josh Brown getting caught terrorizing his ex-wife and the publication of the now-infamous video of Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancee out in an elevator with an uppercut. Violence against women is one of the hottest topics in sports today and you don’t have to wait very long for some talking heads on TV to discuss the issues these days.
As if to back up that statement, Montez Sweat — who also got kicked off of his first college football team for a vague “violation of team rules” and was drafted after Simmons — did not get the same treatment and the ESPN crew actually talked about what he could bring to the NFL table as a football player. He allegedly smoked weed with a teammate (according to said teammate) and had to leave Starkville for junior college and later Michigan State’s football team.
I wouldn’t say that this uptick of domestic violence in the news cycle shows a problem that’s only gotten worse in recent years. It’s one that, thanks to social media’s uncanny ability to magnify anyone and anything like nothing we’ve ever seen before, we’re just hearing about more often than in the past because it’s so much easier to blast information out to millions of people. It’s so easy for professional scouts — heck, let’s even go out of sports and add hiring managers — to find info on someone they’re interested in signing or drafting or hiring or whatever. This stuff has always been a big problem. It’s just easier to find out about now.
The answer here isn’t to get better at hiding things from the Internet. If you know not to do things that would make you into another cautionary tale, you don’t have to worry about what a draft scout or hiring manager will find out about you. Even if you’re falsely accused of domestic violence or something like that, the key word is “falsely” and you’ll have a much easier time proving your innocence than trying to fight an accusation about something you did and keep it under wraps. No one’s perfect, but it costs nothing to at least try to be a good person.
That’s why I’m hoping our local coaches, teachers, parents and role models aren’t skimping out on teaching our kids to hold themselves accountable for their actions and treat others with respect. It goes beyond empty words said in between sessions in the film room or right after practices. We need the most important people in our kids’ lives, those whom our kids respect more than anyone else, to make sure now, as much as ever, they’ll step up and fight for basic decency, the “golden rule.” It’s not OK to unleash your anger like that on another human being, on a significant other or a child, just because you don’t know of any healthy ways to deal with it off the playing field. Clearly more people need to learn that at an earlier age and before anything regrettable happens. It’s not normal behavior and shouldn’t be normalized.
Sure, it might not always screw up your life right out of the gate. Simmons and Hill still got drafted. Hunt still has a place in the league. Heck, some of these athletes even have a few defenders out there who make light of a situation because of athletic hero worship. But once that kind of microscope’s trained on you, you’ll never really shake it off — and any bad choices you do make will hit so much harder. Too many never find out or never wake up and realize they’re not invincible until it’s too late.