disposable heroes

>> 8.19.2009

To say that I knew Charles Rogers would be a lie.

He and I are about the same age, attended Michigan State at the same time, and had some mutual friends.  In the course of hanging out with those friends, he and I hung out a few times as well.  A couple house parties, a few get-togethers, watching football once or twice.  I don’t know if he ever really knew my name then, and he certainly doesn’t now.  I’d be stunned if he even recognized me without context (i.e., the presence of those mutual friends).  That was the extent of my familiarity with him.

Still, it was surreal to see the same person—face, voice, lexicon, mannerisms—I’d hung out with, up close and personal on Outside the Lines.  It was bizarre to hear him tell Jemele Hill how his “Lamborghini living”, combined with his injuries, depression, and eventual addictions sidetracked what might have been an incredible career.  It was reassuring to see him avoid the easy outs—he wasn’t dodging questions, issuing blanket denials, or painting himself as a saint.  It was depressing to see him working hard, talking about a “comeback” that’s likely occurring only in his mind.

The NFL, as a hivemind/entity, has given up on Chuck.  You can just sense the groupthink take on him: he’s a bust, he’s a ‘turd’, he’s a stoner, he’s injury-prone; he’s been written off.  Matt Millen gave us several interesting nuggets in that interview—but foremost was this: if an NFL team believes that Chuck can help them win, they will take him.  It’s sad and ruthless, but Millen’s absolutely right.  The fact that he’s not on somebody’s roster proves that nobody in the NFL believes he can help them win.  Chuck appears to have been blackballed—and at least amongst NFL fans in general, nobody seems to care.

What a bizarre contrast, then, with Mike Vick.  Here is a man who spent six years in the NFL being almost, but not quite, an excellent NFL quarterback.  He was involved in a string of on- and off-field incidents, culminating in the discovery that he’d been funding, organizing, and personally committing dozens of violent federal felonies.  But, NFL teams still believe he can help them win--so now he’s got a million-dollar job with one of the best-run sports organizations in the world.  While there are many who believe he should have lost his privilege to play professional football, there are others who will argue that any suspension beyond his prison sentence could only be motivated by extreme racism.

Where, I wonder, is this same outcry for Charles Rogers?  Who is taking the NFL to task for casting him aside?  Is it the perception that all that “Lamborghini living” was his own damn fault?  How then, does that not apply to the choices Mike Vick made?  Vick is sometimes painted as a victim of circumstance, having been indoctrinated in a working-class, African-American subculture where illegal behavior is glorified.  Of course, I challenge anyone to explain how that would not apply to Chuck, as well.  Is it, then, the nature of the offenses?  Rogers committed crimes of dependency and sloth, whereas Vick committed crimes of passion and violence.  Could it be that Vick’s pardon comes because, if properly channeled, his flaws are usable?  That’s a level of ruthlessness I can’t possibly be comfortable with.

This all catalyzed for me yesterday, when I took my two oldest kids to the annual “Meet the Spartans” event at the Meridian Mall.  As much as I root for my alma mater, I don’t know all hundred-plus kids by face or number in August--so for most of them, I was shaking their hand and asking them their name before proffering my children’s posters for them to sign.

There was one player, an incredibly built kid.  His lean, but developed frame definitely brought the phrase “man amongst boys” to my mind.  I shook his hand—but when I asked his name, he froze; suspicion flashed across his face.  “Glenn Winston,” he replied.  I cracked a smile and said, “Sorry, I don’t know everyone by number yet,” and the tension broke.  He laughed and smiled wide, and said, “I’m sorry, I thought you recognized my face from something else.”

As he signed my kids’ posters, I remembered something I’d Tweeted not too long ago:

“Damn. Hoping this punk'd never don the Green & White again”.

I immediately felt sick to my stomach.  I’d just looked this kid—and, ripped or no, that’s what he is, a college kid—in the eye and shook his hand; yet just a week before I’d called him a punk, and complained that his future hadn’t yet swirled down the drain.  Is that really the kind of person I am?  Is that what fandom does to someone?  I’m so eager to make sure that “my” team represents me well, that I’ll wish for young man with a path to a bright future to have the door slammed in his face?  I can’t possibly be comfortable with that, either.

Unfortunately, complaining about the grand injustice of it all gets us nowhere.  The fact remains that life isn’t fair; how second, and third, and fourth chances to do it right are distributed isn’t equal in any walk of life; football is no exception.

To say there is an easy answer would be a lie.


Matt,  August 19, 2009 at 4:25 PM  

Best thing I've read on your blog so far.

You answer some very difficult questions and raise even tougher ones. The answers to them all, as you say, are not easy.

My personal take on it/them (Rogers, Vick, Winston) is that I'm an advocate of second chances. If the person is sincere and dedicated to a turnaround, then more power to him. If they aren't, then, pardon my French, but fuck 'em.

On the flipside, as you point out, the distribution of such second chances in our society seems to be grossly uneven. A guy who threw away a multi-million dollar first chance is practically always, without a second (or maybe third) thought, given a second (or maybe third) chance as long as he still shows a modicum of potential. An "Average Joe," on the other hand, will have life as he knows it ruined after one DUI. I'm not saying he's banished from society, but between jail time, court costs, fines, job loss, criminal record, etc. chances are he'll never achieve the standard of living (which was not a "Lamborghini lifestyle") he previously enjoyed, even if he is sincere in and dedicated to that goal.

Michael Vick and Charles Rogers can probably, realistically, never achieve their previous lifestyles as well, but they've got a legitimate shot at it. And even if they fall short, the level they probably WILL achieve on the second chance is still higher than Average Joe could have achieved if he stayed clean. . .simply because the former, at some point, could throw, catch, and/or run with a football exceptionally well. It certainly doesn't seem fair, but, of course, that's life.

And, to be fair, I, myself, am part of the problem because I watch games and buy jerseys (including a #80 Charles Rogers) and tickets to games and stuff from the ads shown during the games I watch, etc. (all of which helps pay for those ?unfair? second chances) and I don't have any plans to slow down or stop that behavior.

And, to be fair again, despite my advocacy of second chances, I don't want Michael Vick or Charles Rogers or Glenn Winston on ANY of my teams.

Wow. . .yeah. . .tough questions. . .heavy stuff. . .and another rambling comment on a blog that will, ultimately, have no effect other than to, maybe, placate my conscience a bit.

And definitely the best piece I've read on that blog.

Scotty G,  August 19, 2009 at 5:30 PM  

I liked the article Ty. Very thought provoking. I want to raise another point...indiference. I read all this, look up Winston story as I had no prior knowlege of it ocurring, sit back and say to myself, "who cares". I ask myself how I can be so callis and I don't have an answer. Maybe it's because I never have meet any of these people in person. Maybe it' because news reports and sunday afternoons are the extent of our relationship. Maybe it's because I'm a bad person. I don't know. I just care about the football side of it. Brett Farve and Michael Vick are viewed equally in my eyes, as a threat to defeat my dear Lions. Just because the man arrested and jailed for dog fighting ect. goes by the name of Michael Vick, doesn't draw any more or less sypathy than if his name was Michael Smith. He is an individual that commited a hanus crime and paid the price. The only intrest I have are the roster implications. Should he be banned from the nfl? The answer is the same as if his name was Joe Blow. Yes. Any person that has been jailed, serves his sentence, and is released should be able to get a job. It shouldn't matter if it's cleaning toilets or passing for 3000+ yds. If the Lions were to sign Vick, I would cheer for him because he is a Lions. What type of person he is does not factor much in the equasion, except for the fact that he may jepordize his future which would negitivly effect my favorite franchise. I don't know. I prefer to keep the problems of the world seperate from my football. I hope that doesn't make me a bad person but it is what it is.

Weston Corbitt,  August 19, 2009 at 7:20 PM  

Having Glenn Winston back on the team is a joke and a very un-Dantonio thing to do in my opinion. I do not care how talented you are, you can not get second chances in sports like that. Remember Michael Vick killed some dogs and got 18 months in prison, Donte Stallworth got drunk, drove and killed a man and got probation and his license taken away. By the way, not even the UFL, looking for any story or chance to sell tickets and get publicity, does not want Charles Rogers. What a waste of talent,

Atti,  August 20, 2009 at 12:53 AM  

The reason why Charles Rogers isn't given a second chance in the league? It's quite simple...he's just not good enough to make an NFL team. NFL team's don't care as much about people's pasts as we would like to think. Charles Rogers is available for teams that want him and if he was good enough to help a team at the WR spot, he would be making bank. Period.

DenverLion,  August 20, 2009 at 1:54 PM  

Great piece Ty! How are you not a columnist somewhere?

My view is that all three players have spent time in jail. And once they are released, having served their time, they should have the opportunity to make whatever living they choose to make. If they have the skill to play football, and they have a team willing to employ them/give them a scholarship, then we should not deny them the right to go back to work.

Everyone deserves a second chance.

That said, if they don't learn their lessons and continue to display the same behavior that got them into trouble in the first place (or any other troubling behavior), then you cut ties and throw the book at them.

DrewsLions,  August 20, 2009 at 2:11 PM  

Ty - Great write, as usual. But I think you are missing out on a very key point with your comparison of Vick and Rogers. That missing piece is skill-set. Vick still has the ability to play and Charles doesn't... or maybe he does... none of us really knows. But he was cut because he was slow and lazy, not because he was a drug user or a convicted felon or anything aside from his on-the-field play. The fact that the drugs caused the slowness and laziness is irrelevant. He is out of the league because he wasn't good enough to play anymore. Several teams aside from the Lions confirmed that.

Vick left the NFL because of reasons other than physical limitations. The simple and sad fact is that the NFL will always have a place for those who can draw ticket sales and win games. Vick can still play and help a team win and Rogers, until he finds a way to prove otherwise, can't.

In a similar situation, Burress will be back in the league upon release (as long as he doesn't receive an additional suspension at that time). He wasn't release because of lack of talent and as long as that talent is intact, he will have a place in the NFL.


Matt,  August 20, 2009 at 2:25 PM  

Atti, I've got to disagree with you. How do we, or any NFL teams, know Chuck isn't good enough when he can't even get a workout? The last one I heard about was with Miami back in '06 or '07 after the Lions cut him. Obviously, Miami didn't see anything then because they didn't sign him (and they could've used a decent, not even good, wideout). So, I agree that, at that point, he wasn't good enough. But the fact that he can't get a workout now and the comments of the UFL commissioner relayed in the Outside the Lines piece scream exactly what Ty posted. . ."blackballed."

I mean, if you want to say dude's not good enough for the NFL, fine, I can get behind that. But the UFL? Even if dude's lost 2 full "steps" he's still faster than 99% of the guys who will be playing in that league and can help one of those teams win. Why is the commissioner, who, by the way, doesn't actually own/run/coach any of the 4 teams, coming out and saying the league has no interest? Again, "blackballed."

That being said, the 4 UFL coaches are all just like Chuck in that the thing they want most is to get back in the NFL. If any of them thinks that Chuck can help them achieve that goal (which requires UFL wins), he'll be on a UFL roster. If he shows something there, the NFL WILL come knocking. If he can't even get a UFL workout, again, that screams "blackballed."

I've obviously exposed my bias towards this particular guy getting a second chance (though I also stated I'm generally pro-second chance), but, that aside, him getting blackballed by both leagues, at this point the only logical conclusion, especially when Michael Vick is going to make a million dollars in the NFL this season, is, to paraphrase Ty, not something I'm comfortable with.

Matt,  August 20, 2009 at 2:45 PM  

DrewsLions, you made your post while I was writing mine (my 2nd one), but there's a couple points in there I'd like to address. . .

First, I agree with you and everyone else who made the point that the difference between Vick/Plax and Chuck is the physical ability question, not the off-field question(s). And, like I said, Chuck got a workout(s) post-Lions and didn't stick. So there's that.

That being said, though, Vick went to jail for two years. No one knew what his physical abilities would be coming out. . .until they gave him a workout. Plax, on the other hand, has known abilities, but, because teams didn't know his legal status, wouldn't workout/sign him either. It's purely speculative, but, in 2011 or whenever he gets out, I think a team(s) will do the first, then the second.

Now to Chuck. . .as I posted before, according to the Outside the Lines piece, he can't even get a workout. Not just with the NFL, but also with the UFL. That just isn't right when Vick got and, I think, Plax WILL get not only a workout, but a million+ dollar contract.

As was also noted in the OTL piece, Chuck WAS productive in his two truncuated seasons before he let it all go to crap. As was also noted by me in previous posts, I am pro-second chance, pro-this particular guy, pro-life's not fair, and pro-this guy is getting blackballed by two leagues. I don't see how anyone can justify Vick getting a contract and (like I said, purely speculative) Plax getting another shot, but Charles Rogers not even getting looked at. It's just not right.

Steve,  August 20, 2009 at 3:26 PM  

Really liked the tenor of this article and it's acknowledgement of the fact that these athletes are actually human beings, albeit flawed ones.

I believe that there are underlying racial tensions attached to the ado surrounding Glenn Winston, after he rejoined the Spartans. Most people who have been young, dumb and full of uh, vinegar, have been involved in a similar scenario as the ones that Rogers and Winston each found themselves within, with a helluva lot less at stake.

I am not advocating the stupid behavior of entitled athletes, but think that many of them are young and are trying to figure things out, a lot like their peers, and their decisions can have costly ramifications, much like their peers often do. Hugs for everyone!!!

Ty,  August 20, 2009 at 5:04 PM  


"And, to be fair, I, myself, am part of the problem because I watch games and buy jerseys (including a #80 Charles Rogers) and tickets to games and stuff from the ads shown during the games I watch, etc. (all of which helps pay for those ?unfair? second chances) and I don't have any plans to slow down or stop that behavior.

And, to be fair again, despite my advocacy of second chances, I don't want Michael Vick or Charles Rogers or Glenn Winston on ANY of my teams."

Yeah, I completely agree on all counts. I'll be cheering regardless because I'm a fan, thus creating an environment where this behavior doesn't ban someone from the game. On a human level, I want these guys to get every chance to turn their lives around, if they're sincerely doing their best to do things right. Again, though, on a fan level, I want "my" team to play with class and honor, and to win without packing the roster with thugs.

I just want it all; why can't I have it?


Matt,  August 20, 2009 at 5:57 PM  

So, Ty, let me ask you this. . .

You are not or were not happy with Glenn Winston on your MSU Spartans team. . .

What would your feelings be about a Lions team that signed Michael Vick, Charles Rogers, or Plaxico Burress (feel free to treat each as a separate case)?

RIP,  August 20, 2009 at 7:47 PM  

Chuck had many of oppurtunities,

First he failed the drug test at the combine. He later failed an additional 3 tests, even though his contract stated not too. He did not care. After (LOL) cleaned himself up, he could not make an impression for an NFL try out. Then he follows that up with rehab.

After being out of football for what 4 years, he is crying to the media that he can't get a sixth try.

If he cleaned himself up then give him another try, but who is going to trust him. Why would the UFL take the chance on a PR mistake?

Ty,  August 21, 2009 at 2:07 PM  

Scotty G--

I have to admit, part of what draws me to sports is the human element--you know, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, all that stuff. I think that rooting for teams and players--being a "Lions Fan" or a "Stafford guy" makes a statement about who YOU are as a person . . . If it turns out that Matt Stafford's the head of a, I don't know, massive intrastate moonshine operation, I'm not exactly going to be able to walk around town proudly sporting authentic Stafford jersey . . .

Plus, it just tears at me that Vick can commit heinous, brutal, violent felonies, lie about it too the police, prosecutors, feds, and Commissioner, and yet everyone says he "deserves" yet another chance--Chuck got depressed and addicted to narcotics, and he "deserves" to be blackballed? I don't get it.


Ty,  August 21, 2009 at 2:12 PM  


From my understanding, the reason the kid Winston punched got hurt so badly was because he fell and cracked his head on the hearth; those who depict the fight as Winston dealing out unrelenting brutality until the victim's skull cracked are off-base.

I don't deny that one State athelete punching out another is a black eye on the team and university--but if it's the last stupid thing the kid ever does, won't you feel bad for wishing him ill?


Ty,  August 21, 2009 at 2:13 PM  


But that's the exact point of all this; if he's to be believed, he's been working out, getting back in shape, and flashing some of that old ability. If what you say is true, the UFL wouldn't be turning up their noses at him. There's got to be some other motive or force at work . . .


Ty,  August 21, 2009 at 2:26 PM  


See, the whole "second chance" thing applies perfectly to Winston; he made one really bad mistake, and as far as we know he's been scared straight.

Chuck fell into a pattern of dependency and irresponsiblity; this really wouldn't be a "second chance" but more like a third or fourth. He was a Prop 48 kid at State, so had to sit a year, screwed around in college (testing positive for weed, twice), gave a diluted sample at the combine--and then after two straight season-ending injuries, it seems like he gave up.

Vick had had a series of character indicents--including, but not limited to, flipping off his fans, getting caught on-camera with a blunt, and the airport "secret water bottle" fiasco. Not to mention the fact that, as he admitted on 60 minutes, his play was suffering because he wasn't working on his mental game at all. He was dangerously close to flaming out to begin with; a LOT of eyebrows went up with the Falcons extended him--and the magnitude of what he was involved in, IMO, cannot be overstated.

And again, apparently Vick must be allowed to walk right back on the field, but Chuck's burned his last bridge? Still don't get it.


Scotty G,  August 22, 2009 at 3:00 PM  

If someone put a gun to my head, forcing me to care, and made me choose which the greater evil is...I would choose Vick without a doubt. What he did is just plane wrong and inhumane. I am a deer hunter. Does this make me inhumane because I kill animals (when lucky enough to see them;)or am I different because I don't tourture them?
I choose not to personally involve myself in the moral debate. The same reason I only go to church w/ my fater and grandparents on holidays. Not trying to start a war, I just don't care.
And as I write this, I find myself quesioning why I even bother to take the time to do so? That is a much easier question to answer...I love the way Ty writes. I have a soft spot for articulate and intelligent people. you don't find that combination in sports much.

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