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.