Philadelphia, PA – Analytics is all the rage in professional sports. But, while baseball geeks debate WAR and FIP and basketball junkies discuss PER, football analysts are left to sift through national arrest rates in an effort to contextualize the NFL's perceived problems with the law.
Those who deal in logic before emotion understand ex-New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is not indicative of the league as whole or football players in general but his messy and seemingly out of control personal life has certainly tarnished the shield Roger Goodell protects so vigorously.
That said, the recent arrests of two of the Denver Broncos' top personnel people strikes me as a much bigger problem for the NFL.
Obviously, Tom Heckert and Matt Russell getting pinched for drunk driving inside of four weeks of each other can't be compared to murder allegations, but most can comprehend Hernandez's stupidity is exceedingly rare and certainly no precursor to future behavior.
On the other hand, the NFL has had a consistent problem with people driving while impaired. Moreover, what makes these two specific cases more alarming is the fact these were the "grownups."
Too often we write off issues like this with players to things like naivete and immaturity. Perhaps, a legitimate causal connection but no excuse.
Either way, Heckert and Russell should be long past the wild and crazy days of their youth and as people in positions of power, setting an example for those aforementioned young men who are sometimes prone to making poor decisions.
Russell, Denver's director of player personnel, was arrested last weekend after hitting two cars in Summit County, Colo., first running into a car in Frisco on Saturday evening before rear-ending a police SUV in Breckenridge several minutes later.
"I deeply regret the poor judgment I demonstrated that resulted in my arrest over the weekend," the 40-year-old Russell said. "I apologize to the Denver Broncos, our fans and the National Football League for this inexcusable mistake. I'm ashamed that I represented this region and the Broncos organization in the manner that I did."
The Broncos sounded serious when they issued a statement.
"Our organization is extremely disappointed and concerned with the incident involving Matt Russell," the club said. We immediately expressed our disappointment to Matt, and he is fully aware of the seriousness of this situation. This type of behavior is unacceptable and very troubling. We expect better from all employees, particularly those in leadership positions."
Maybe that tersely worded rebuke would have meant a little bit more if not for the fact that shortly thereafter it was revealed that Heckert, the team's director of pro personnel, is facing charges of driving under the influence stemming from a June 11 arrest, less than four weeks before Russell was snared.
"We were made aware of the matter involving Tom Heckert immediately after it occurred and promptly notified the league office," the Broncos said only after Heckert's troubles broke in the media. "His arrest is extremely upsetting, and this situation is being handled internally as well as in coordination with NFL policies. Tom's actions are obviously part of a disturbing pattern of irresponsible behavior that we are aggressively addressing within our organization."
It's now time for the Broncos to prove all that tough talk isn't just lip service.
At the bare minimum, suspensions and fines are certainly warranted, but those kinds of things are punitive and not really addressing the problem, something Denver claims it wants to do:
"One member of the Broncos arrested for driving under the influence is one too many. This type of behavior puts innocent people at risk and cannot be tolerated. While our team and league supply plenty of resources to prevent these situations, it is clear we need to do better. We are thoroughly reviewing the procedures we have in place and will do whatever it takes to enhance their effectiveness going forward."
Here's one vote for that review to look at the fact that most of the league's coaches and personnel people are under enormous pressure and have 80-plus hour work weeks, often sleeping on office couches
To most fans who care about little, save winning, that probably seems like a silly problem with roots firmly planted in ego. It also can quickly morph into a more serious issue, however, one which can result in issues like depression, alcoholism and even failed marriages.
To be fair, in the word of professional sports, football is calculus. Piloting a baseball team is about getting that killer tan, while coaching hoops is all about managing egos. I'll leave it to the puck heads to explain what the hockey higher-ups do.
NFL front office people from this generation wear their work ethic like a badge of honor and look down at members of the fraternity who have the gall to feel a more well-rounded lifestyle might actually contribute to success and longevity in life. Owners have picked up on that disdain and have made it almost mandatory for key employees to be on call 24-7.
There are laws that limit the amount of time airline pilots, truck drivers and doctors work for good reason.
Common sense and perhaps the Broncos should limit people like Heckert's and Russell's.