The Strong Way

September 15th, 2014

NFL news last week began with video evidence of domestic abuse and ended with an indictment for child abuse.

In both cases, the alleged perpetrators, Ray Rice formerly of the Baltimore Ravens and Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings, are prominent well paid running backs.  Besides enormous salaries, each man boasts sizeable endorsement contracts, although in Rice’s case, all of this largesse is in immediate jeopardy.

Unfortunately, the actions of these two men don’t necessarily represent isolated incidents.  On an almost daily basis, we’re now hearing more such stories involving NFL players. Evidently, for some of these individuals, the rather violent behavior necessary to succeed on the football field is tragically being played out in their personal lives as well.

Let’s hope that this news opens a few eyes and changes a culture that’s clearly going in the wrong direction.

Personally, it is this hope that makes me a proud and happy season ticket holder of Texas Longhorns’ football despite a 1-2 record to start the season.

Sure, I was a bit more outwardly joyful a few years ago when the Longhorns were winning a national championship and playing for another.  It’s fun to win whether you’re a player or a fan.

But in the years that followed, the Longhorns weren’t winning to the satisfaction of the Texas faithful.  This situation resulted in the resignation of Mack Brown as Head Coach of the football team and the hiring of Charlie Strong, the former coach of the successful Louisville Cardinal team.

Last summer, shortly after Strong’s hiring, word spread around Austin that Strong intended to run a tight ship.  No longer would players be treated like prima donnas. Instead, they would adhere to a list of rules intended to instill discipline in them as a football team but also to insure that even if they didn’t get a NFL contract out of their years at the Forty Acres, they would at least come away with a degree and a better character than when they first arrived.

For starters, Strong required that football players attend class.  In fact, he not only insisted they go to class, but he mandated that when they arrive there, they sit in the first two rows.  He further forbid them from texting or donning headphones in class.  Instead, he ordered them to “[s]it up and take notes.”

That’s not all.  Additionally, he gave the following edict: “No earrings in the football building. No drugs.  No stealing. No guns. Treat women with respect.” (Italics added)

One would hope this latter list of rules would be obvious. Granted, the earrings rule could arguably boil down to fashion preference, but it instills a sense of order and decorum required in other well run organizations (e.g., you don’t see many members of the military wearing an earring) and thus is clearly a good thing.  Arguably, the “no guns” rule could have been rephrased as “no illegal guns” (this is after all Texas), but I won’t quibble with the word choice here because I think it sends the right message.

If all football players followed Charlie Strong’s rules, how many of them do you expect would end up like Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson?

Not many.

A couple of weekends ago, I was sitting in the Texas heat with other season ticket holders watching BYU demolish Texas. Part of this outcome resulted from quarterback Tyrone Swoopes adjusting to his role as starter, but it was also because Strong has dismissed many of the players (even some very good players) who refuse to abide by his rules.

And guess what?  I didn’t hear a single fan in the stands complain about the shellacking.  No one was calling for Strong’s head because he made a decision that (at least for now) probably makes it harder to win football games.  In fact, my game “neighbor” told me he would be fine if we never won a game the rest of the season because he thinks Strong is doing things the right way.  Hearing him say this was no small thing. This is coming from a serious diehard fan (at one point he stood up and hollered for the defense to cause the BYU quarterback great bodily harm—not something I personally endorse).

Perhaps Roger Goodell should give Charlie a call and get pointers on how things should be done.  Clearly, there is the wrong way and there’s the Strong way.

The NFL could certainly use the latter.

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