What’s up with pros’ bad behavior?

Whenever multiple cases of professional athletes, most commonly in team sports, get into trouble with the law, I always find myself thinking, “Why are these guys such losers?”

If it’s just one case coming to the forefront, it’s easy to just focus on that one guy – it’s never a woman – and what he’s done.

But group mentality or herd thinking or whatever the correct term for seeing two or three or four of these cases on our radar all at once makes me lump them all together and blame the whole class of athletes.

That isn’t right for me or you of any one of us, though it doesn’t make much difference when we’re just thinking it to ourselves, or maybe talking about it over coffee at our favorite diner in Marquette, Munising or Michigamme.

It would be nice, however, to figure out why legal troubles seem to constantly plague these guys. It could finally offer the correct perspective when you and I and every other sports fan reads and hears about these cases in the national media.

Should we feel sorry for them in all but the most heinous cases? Heinous as in the current soap opera surrounding the New England Patriots’ Aaron Hernandez and the murder charge he’s facing in the death of a friend.

Or should we consider even a drunken driving case as the epitome of stupid and figuratively throw our own books at them?

In most cases, these are guys who have enough money to hire a car and driver not just for themselves, but a taxi ride for every person who gets drunk in their favorite nightclub so no one gets behind the wheel who isn’t sober.

Sorry, I don’t have the answers sitting at my desk at The Mining Journal. But maybe taking a look at some of the angles will clear away some of the clutter.

The Associated Press had an excellent in-depth article that ran in Monday’s Mining Journal on Page 3B, “NFL criminal cases put focus on vetting.”

Hernandez, along with Cleveland Browns rookie linebacker Ausar Walcott in his attempted murder case, prompted the story, which focused on how prospective players with troubled pasts are screened.

I’ll leave the screening process for somebody else to mull over. I’m more concerned about why these young male millionaires – in some cases multi-millionaires – are jeopardizing their good names, their earning power and the fortunes they’ve amassed to commit acts most of us would never think of doing.

The AP story pointed out some facts – with about 3,000 players who go through training camps, the NFL arrest rate is about 2 percent, half of the general population. And the overall American male 20- to 34-year-old age group, which nearly all pro players fit into, has quite a bit higher arrest rate than 4 percent.

But it was also pointed out that the general population hasn’t all been to college or makes more than enough money to be able to avoid a life of crime.

The story veers off to the screening process, while I got to thinking more about the previous statistics.

What would happen to me if I was 19 or 20 years old and offered $10 or $20 million, heck, just $1 million, to play sports? Hmmm.

Maybe we need an analogy? Here’s a couple:

The winners of the Main Event at the World Series of Poker, who annually win $5 million to $10 million. Lately, they’ve been young men who’ve never had that kind of money before.

What about lottery winners, the ones who hit the Big Game/MegaMillions/ Powerball jackpots for $50 million or $300 million?

There’s a cottage industry about telling their stories, including cable TV channel TLC’s “Lottery Changed My Life.”

I thought, “OK, they’ve made a mess out of their lives, too.” It wasn’t until a day later it occurred to me that yes, they’ve made messes, but generally it was a financial mess, not one on the police blotter.

A number of pro athletes have whittled away their fortunes and occasionally that’s come to light. It makes for sad stories, but not criminal ones in and of themselves.

Why do so many pros come from extremely poor circumstances, where crime was a fact of life growing up?

What I’ve heard is that becoming a pro is as much due to relentless hard work and single-mindedness as it is to pure athletic talent.

How many talented guys haven’t had what it takes to make it? And what would you think creates the single-mindedness needed to basically will yourself not to fail?

In a word, motivation. Motivation can come in several forms, such as from within, that will to succeed in your innermost being.

But it can also come from without, meaning from outside yourself. As in seeing what will happen if you don’t keep pushing to succeed. I’m thinking of the guys who someone rescues – or they rescue themselves – from the dead-end, inner-city projects.

As a middle-class kid with lots of other opportunities, would I have had the will to almost kill myself to make it as a pro? To put all my eggs in a basket that’s at best a longshot? I kind of doubt it. I would’ve seen the writing on the wall long before that and steered myself in another direction. Like to newspaper writing.

There’s the answer I don’t have – does growing up poor make you susceptible to becoming a felon?

If it does, usually the trouble starts in preteen, teenage or college years. That means a track record is there.

Maybe the guys with a record, even if only as a juvenile, should have to prove they can handle the money, attention and privilege being handed to them. Not just by staying out of trouble for a year or two, but actually proving it.

Otherwise, there’s plenty of other guys who can take their place.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.