Ravens have lost benefit of doubt in taking chances with character

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Less than a month ago, Steve Bisciotti said the Ravens “took a crash” last season with the Ray Rice saga and four other offseason arrests.
His comments were made in the midst of director of security Darren Sanders’ legals problems and a few weeks after the release of defensive tackle Terrence Cody (felony animal cruelty). Since Bisciotti suggested these kinds of off-field problems “come in waves,” cornerback Victor Hampton and running back Bernard Pierce were each arrested on driving under the influence charges and promptly released.
Any sliver of a benefit of the doubt that might have remained following a nightmarish 2014 calendar year is now gone, regardless of the extensive list of high-character individuals who do exist in the organization.
“In order to take a hit to your reputation, you have to have a pretty good reputation to start with, and we did,” Bisciotti said on Feb. 24. “Now, it’s about proving that it was an aberration, and we believe that to be the case. Are we a little more aware? Yes, I think specifically if you go back to the Ray Rice thing, we certainly are more aware. We’ve been able to tap resources in the community that have furthered our knowledge, our sensitivity and our responsibility.”
There’s only so much that can be done to prevent current members of your organization from getting in trouble. You can look for gaps or needs in your player development program and try to monitor off-field behavior as much as you’d like, but they’re ultimately grown men who make their own choices.
The Ravens have followed through with Bisciotti’s mention of showing more responsibility by disposing of Cody, Hampton, and Pierce, even if they weren’t expected to be notable performers for the 2015 Ravens. It remains to be seen what would happen — and the Ravens hope they won’t be faced with the possibility — if a star performer were to be arrested.
But it would be even better if players — insignificant ones or not — weren’t finding trouble in the first place. Even after ridding themselves of the three players arrested this offseason, the stigma remains with the Ravens.
And that’s where the organization needs to be more proactive and vigilant with the player additions that they make, for reasons of both perception and reality. The Ravens have long taken pride in providing an environment for second chances, but they’re not in a position to do that right now.
“The one area we will definitely take a hard look – and it will be tough for us to bring a player to Baltimore – is someone who has domestic abuse in their background,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said last month. “Other than that, we’ll exhaust every character aspect of the player, but we believe in allowing the information to lead us to a decision when we deal with that. Our scouts do an unbelievable job of getting information when they are on the campuses.”
The standard needs to be higher with not only domestic violence concerns but in any matters that raise red flags away from the field. No breath can be wasted on draft prospects such as talent wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham or other outside additions with any inkling of past trouble.
It’s the current climate in which the organization is living in the wake of the last 13 months.
A few years ago, the Ravens enjoyed the benefit of the doubt in drafting a player with character concerns coming out of college like cornerback Jimmy Smith, but they’re no longer living in that world. While no one would have predicted what happened with Rice, let’s not pretend that Hampton and Pierce — the two most recently arrested — had spotless backgrounds.
Does staying away from questionable character narrow the talent pool? Yes, but not to the point where the Ravens won’t be able to compete given their ability to find good football players.
An isolated incident here or there is unavoidable, but eight player arrests in 13 months can’t be viewed as an aberration if you really care about your image.
The organization has a problem and must do better in bringing in players they can trust on and off the field.
Or the positive reputation the Ravens once enjoyed will be lost for good.