Hard to believe, but it's been five years since the 2005 drafting of Adam Jones. Since then, the Titans, as a franchise, is coming off one of it's most memorable seasons ever, and it looks like they'll compete for a playoff spot yet again in the toughest division in football. Since then, Pacman's life has been completely flipped on it's axis by a series of unfortunate run-ins with the law, bounced between the CFL and the Dallas Cowboys, and even tried to begin a career as an MMA fighter.
On another note, less directly related to us here at MCM, it's also been five years since the drafting of his teammate, Chris Henry, a receiver at West Virginia who played for the Cincinnati Bengals. As many of you know, Henry was killed in what was largely accepted as a domestic dispute on December 17, 2009. At the time of his death, he was engaged to be married to the woman who's car he fell out of, and with whom he had three young children. A truly tragic end to a player who, while he had a history of issues off the field up until that point, was in the process of turning his life around.
Young men ruining their lives after achieving fortune and fame. This is becoming altogether a far too common occurrence. How did we get here? More importantly, what can we do to make sure that it never happens again, or at least make it so that it happens less frequently?
In February 2005, a few weeks after his junior season at West Virginia ended, Adam Jones, along with teammate Chris Henry, declared for the NFL Draft. Both. Jones was the most highly touted defensive player in the draft; a shutdown corner with the ability to be a great return man and was even on the Athletic Director's Academic Honor Roll. As it would happen, he fell right into our laps with the sixth overall pick. Immediately after the draft, Jones agreed that he wouldn't accept any of his bonus money should he be convicted of a crime, but a contract dispute continued to drag out through training camp when Jones reportedly refused to accept the TItans' terms, apparently containing some "safeguards" about Jones' off-field issues.
Henry was a top-flight receiver at WVU. Haling from Belle Chasse Louisiana, population 9,848, Henry was the only third player in the school's history to average more than twenty yards per catch for his career and his 1,878 receiving yards are eighth most in school history. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals with the 83rd pick of the draft. He had a history of more on-field antics, flashing signs of a short temper and a reputation for being intensely competitive.
Fast forward three years.
Jones has been everything that we had hoped he would be on the field, maybe even more than we'd hoped. Off the field, he'd been short of a complete disaster. In April 2007, Jones is once again suspended for what will be his tenth game out of uniform. Details on what exactly happened can be found here on his Wikipedia page. His career, which has shown that he is nothing short of a once in a generation type of talent, is now in shambles. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell states that Jones will not be reinstated after the 2008 Super Bowl, despite protests by teammate LenDale White and the Players' Union. Finally, on June 21, 2008, Jones was set to be reinstated to the NFL. Adam was promptly traded to the Dallas Cowboys on April 23, 2008 under...interesting circumstances. Should Jones be reinstated for the 2008-2009 season, the Cowboys would, in addition to the 4th round pick they were already sending Tennessee, a 6th round pick for next year's draft, but if wasn't reinstated, the Titans would send their 5th round pick in the 2009 draft to the Cowboys. However, even more legal problems surfaced. Jones was again suspended by Goodell, due to a scuffle with his own bodyguard in a Dallas hotel.
Later that season, Jones was released following a neck injury suffered in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Shortly after his release, Pacman was offered a fresh start in Canada; the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League offered him a one year contract, however, negotiations broke down and on September 2, the team renounced it's quest for Pacman.
Such is life for yet another fallen hero.
Chris Henry is dead.
The news struck me like a punch in the face. It reminded of the feeling I had gotten when I heard the news about Sean Taylor; an empty, irrational, sense of loss. Although I knew his story, I had never met the man who now lay somewhere in a North Carolina hospital, but his death left me with a sadness brought on by the loss of a fellow human's life. Engaged to be married with three young sons, in the prime of his life, and showing no signs of reverting to his former controversial lifestyle, it looked like Henry was finally starting to turn it all around.
He had recently signed a new deal with the Cincinnati Bengals after being released just a month earlier. It was modest by NFL standards, but it was all he could have expected following his past antics. He was being given a second chance and he knew it, he wasn't going to do anything to mess it up. Henry played effectively when he was given a chance to play, catching 12 passes for 236 yards and 2 touchdowns in eight games. It was a slow start, but the climb back to the top was going to be slow and painful for Chris.
Then the unthinkable happened, and just like that, a 26 year old man lay dead in the streets of Charlottesville, North Carolina.
So what happened? Two misguided young men's lives were ruined when they gave in and reverted back to their lifestyles before coming to the NFL. The combination of money and the limelight thrust these two into a life that they weren't accustomed to. The public eye criticized them, rightfully so, for breaking the law on several occasions, but often refused to even hear out apologies. Cynics will say that they were insincere and untruthful attempts to win back fans and sign a big contract, but when it all comes down to it, they're just humans who made some mistakes because they weren't ready.
Now I'm not sure how we can prevent things like this from happening so I won't claim i know, but I'm sure that someone out there does and I implore you to speak up. This is not something to be taken lightly, make no mistake. Jones and Henry will forever be compared, the parallels will be pointed out, the flaws will be scrutinized, they'll get labels like "bust", "thug", and "stupid" slapped all over them, and maybe they were all of these things, I'm in no position to denounce that or support it, but all I'm asking is that we have a little compassion.
Fire away folks, I've set myself up for a lot of criticism here and I wanna hear it. What do you think? Should we hold these people to a higher standard because of their elevated paychecks or are they to be treated as what they are, humans who are susceptible to the oh-so-human flaw of making mistakes, albeit, amazing physical gifts?