Before we go any further, we need to go over the details of the Sheldon Richardson arrest. They are only allegations. None of this has been proven true. But if it is, the NFL has another mess on its hands. A pretty significant one.
NFL Network reporter Rand Getlin got his hands on the police report of the Richardson arrest, and the details are frightening. Again, these are only allegations. But, holy hell.
Police say they clocked Richardson drag racing at speeds of 122, 135 and 143 mph. The Cessna airplanes I fly don’t go that fast.
So, yeah, if true, dumb. And, yeah, the people he could have endangered doing that are a part of this. Once caught by the police, Richardson should have just taken his punishment like a grown-up, paid his fine and apologized to the Jets. Unfortunately, Richardson took option B. He allegedly decided to run.
Police say once Richardson saw the patrol vehicle, he took them on a high-speed chase, past moving and parked cars and through residential neighborhoods. Richardson, police say, tried the ol’ pull into a strange driveway and shut down the lights. The police allegedly didn’t fall for it.
What police say happened next will live somewhat in Jets infamy, and that’s a lot of infamy the Jets franchise swims in. Police say they drew their weapons after, they claim, Richardson appeared to reach for something between his feet. Police say inside the car was a semi-automatic handgun, the smell of marijuana and a 12-year-old child.
This arrest happened just a few weeks after Richardson was suspended four games by the league for a failed marijuana test.
I did a quick text survey of three high-ranking team sources (none on the Jets) and each said they believe Richardson will never play another NFL down.
“Putting a child in that kind of danger is disqualifying for me,” said one general manager.
Now, I don’t buy that Richardson is done. He’s not. This is a league that let dog killers, child beaters, woman beaters and drug dealers play. The 24-year-old Richardson is very young and very talented. Teams are very forgiving for the very young and very talented.
So, chances are, he’ll play. Chances are, he’ll play this season. The Jets will search their conscience, and after Richardson serves a long suspension, he will apologize—again—and the Jets will say he has a zero-tolerance policy. Then Richardson will stuff the run and get some sacks and all will be forgotten.
And that’s the problem. All will be forgotten. By everyone. The players, the teams, everyone. Until the next arrest.
Interestingly, the day the story of his arrest came out, Thursday, Richardson was at the team’s facility, saying he would never get in trouble again.
“I apologize to my teammates and the organization,” he said, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “I told them you don’t have to worry about my name being in the news again.”
If the Jets let him go—and they won’t—another team will pick him up. Greg Hardy was found guilty by a judge of doing some despicable things to his girlfriend (despite the case being thrown out upon appeal) and the Cowboys signed him.
If you want to know why the league office has taken such a hard stance on a variety of disciplinary issues, this is why. Some players, and not only a few, and not just the non-stars, aren’t getting it.
Roger Goodell is a convenient punching bag, and he has made some serious mistakes, but look at the league he’s governing. Look at just a few of the names: Ray Rice, Hardy, Adrian Peterson and allegedly Richardson—these are not scrubs. Richardson is a bright young star, a genuine stud with a magnificent future, and here he is, allegedly, running from the cops, guns in the car, kid in the back, doing 140.
Richardson had a legion of players to learn from, to watch, to see their mistakes and grow, and yet, if what police say is true, he smelled of marijuana just weeks after saying he would never make that mistake again.
There is a disconnect with some players. I’m not sure why. I think it goes beyond the usual stuff of money and arrogance and a feeling of invulnerability. Maybe it is that. Maybe it is a mix of that and head trauma. Maybe CTE is playing a bigger part in this than we know. Maybe it is the massive media attention that focuses on these issues. I don’t know.
This is what Goodell is up against. His punishment has been heavy-handed and uneven at times, but I have sympathy because no commissioner has ever faced anything like this.
The league office understands what effect these incidents can have on perception and how perception can shape, and at times, be treacherous. If a perception starts to stick that the NFL is lawless, eventually, the high ratings and big money won’t mean anything.
People want to think the men they are cheering for are at least pseudo-decent, people who care about children and women. Many in the league do treat their children well and take care of them. They do treat their wives and girlfriends well and love them.
But this is why perception is such a dangerous thing. It can alter reality, and the reality is it seems like this league is crime-ridden. That seems harsh, but that is the perception.
The NFL is formidable, but it’s not impervious. It can lose power and influence the way baseball did over steroids or the NBA did in the 1970s when the perception was that it was drug infested.
So, yes, Richardson will probably play again. Just maybe not much this season. I feel a heavy suspension coming (and a court fight from the union).
More important, Richardson shows what remains is one of the NFL’s greatest threats. As big a threat as any.
Some players, more than a few, still don’t get it.