When undrafted free agent linebacker Brandon Joiner was sentenced to three years in prison last week, the old jokes about the Cincinnati Bengals and their reputation for having players who run afoul of the law resurfaced. You know the ones, about stripes on the helmets as well as the prison uniforms.
Not that the Bengals didn't once earn that reputation by employing a great number of players who were less than law-abiding citizens, but those days have long since passed. Those who would take cheap shots at the Bengals organization after Joiner's sentencing last week are way off base.
The most significant reason not to taunt the Bengals in this situation is the obvious: Joiner was neither a member of the Bengals when he committed the crime (he was at Texas A&M) nor did the Bengals invest a draft pick in him. As an undrafted free agent, the Bengals made no investment in Joiner other than a few days per diem and travel costs. Unlike in the past with players like Odell Thurman and AJ Nicholson, the Bengals lose no opportunity here by losing Joiner.
And to be fair to Joiner, this sentence is for a crime he committed three years ago. He'll do the time, but it would appear he got his life together in the time he spent at Arkansas State after being dismissed at Texas A&M.
Another salient point to keep in mind is the Bengals' intentional jettisoning of players who've gotten in trouble. Rey Maualuga is not only facing an NFL suspension for his most recent arrest, but clearly the Bengals' front office and coaching staff is not very happy with the linebacker. If the most recent personnel moves are any indication, especially bringing in Vontaze Burfict, himself having a troubled history on the field although no trouble with the law, Maualuga may be playing his final season in Cincinnati. The Bengals allowed Jerome Simpson to walk this off season after his marijuana conviction and similarly did not pursue Cedric Benson either. They did keep Adam Jones on the roster, but Jones has been pretty much a model citizen since last season. Even so, with the competition at cornerback, his job is hardly guaranteed.
Finally, one has to question whether or not the Bengals ever deserved to be the NFL's poster child for thuggery to begin with. It was the run of offenders in the Odell Thurman/Chris Henry era that attracted the media attention to Cincinnati. All the while, the Minnesota Vikings were atop the league, and remain there, with 36 arrests since 2000. The Bengals are second on that list, but a third of those charges are attributable to Chris Henry and Odell Thurman alone. Any guesses to the third team on the list? The Denver Broncos, John Elway's group of rambunctious ruffians out in Colorado. Maybe Peyton Manning will put them on the straight and narrow, which even Tim Tebow failed to do.
Interestingly enough, for all the talk about NFL arrests, only about 2.2 per cent of NFL players were arrested in 2010 compared to 4.2 per cent of the general public. According to those FBI statistics, you and I are almost twice as likely to get arrested as an NFL player.
The only difference is if you or I get pulled over for a DUI, it won't be on ESPN's front page or along the crawl on SportsCenter.
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