Tank has already failed biggest testLatest episode lets down Bears, everyone who has shown support for tackle
June 24, 2007
Due process dictates the Bears wait two weeks for results of a blood test from the Gilbert, Ariz., police department laboratory to guide them in the latest Tank Johnson dilemma.
A sense of fairness demands the team withhold judgment on Johnson driving while "impaired to the slightest degree" until the legal system decides whether this was a DUI or an overzealous officer.
But the evidence that could weigh most heavily on the Bears already was presented to coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo at the precise moment Friday when they found out Gilbert police had issued Johnson a citation at 3:30 a.m.
It wasn't a fact at all. It was a feeling.
The disappointment Smith and Angelo likely felt upon finding out Johnson thought hanging out until the wee hours of the morning was a good idea could be as damning for Johnson as any blood test.
Granted, Johnson is guilty of nothing at this point but poor judgment. But that was the primary standard by which the Bears were measuring Johnson and the only factor that matters when evaluating whether he deserves to remain a member of the team.
Johnson no longer does. He has betrayed the trust placed in him.
It's a privilege and not a birthright for Johnson to be a Chicago Bear. Maybe it will take Johnson becoming an ex-Bear to realize how lucky he was.
Spending 60 days in Cook County Jail didn't faze Johnson. Getting an eight-game suspension from the NFL, with a chance to reduce it to six by avoiding legal entanglements that most players have no problem avoiding, didn't faze him. Fearing the loss of $60,000 more in pay for Games 7 and 8 of his suspension didn't faze him either.
Cutting him might.
Under Appendix C, Part 11 of the latest collective-bargaining agreement, NFL teams can terminate the contract of a player if he has "engaged in personal conduct reasonably judged by [the] club to adversely affect or reflect on club." One acceptable justification for releasing a player is engaging "in personal conduct which, in the reasonable judgment of the club, adversely affects or reflects on the club."
Ask anybody at a sports bar or train station in Chicago or any NFL city this weekend how Johnson's latest incident reflects on the Bears. It embarrasses them.
Not to mention how it will nag and distract the organization over the next two weeks as team officials await results of the blood tests. Instead of focusing on their Super Bowl chances in '07, the Bears have to worry if Tank exceeded .08.
No matter how popular Johnson is among teammates, Smith cannot give Johnson another pass without being viewed by the rest of the locker room as an enabler.
Just as the front office cannot let Lance Briggs bully them into a new contract without opening the door for other players to follow later, Smith really can't afford to be seen as a head coach who keeps redrawing the line in the sand.
It's beyond getting old. This incident confirmed Johnson only will disappoint the Bears if they give him another chance to do so.
Ridding themselves of Johnson made less sense for the Bears in December after he ignored their edict and went clubbing hours later with friend Willie Posey on the night Posey was shot and killed. At that point the team rightly felt a responsibility to provide a structure for Johnson it previously had failed to and the support was understandable.
Not anymore, not with Johnson flouting all the advice and instruction so many people had given him by staying out all night on his first real free day of the off-season. Not with Johnson talking one way and acting another.
Forget the legal semantics of this case, and the blood-test results that will determine the nature of any charges, and the narrative details that mention how Johnson cooperated fully with Gilbert police.
Forget that technically, Johnson's record could still be as clean as a kicker's uniform by the time the lawyers are done with this.
Forget all the wild accusations from Johnson's supporters that have been made through e-mail and the Internet about him being pulled over in a nice neighborhood because of the make and model of his vehicle or the color of his skin.
The two key words about this incident Johnson cannot explain away or expunge to his employer are "at 3:30 a.m."
At 3:30 a.m. There might be more to this story. But isn't that detail telling enough?
Sober or not, that alone implies Johnson didn't learn a thing in jail other than he has a knack for fooling his friends, teammates and coaches. Unless he was headed to his paper route, he had no good reason to be out that late—or early.
Someone with Johnson's track record shouldn't do anything after midnight but sleep. Someone with as much experience as Johnson has in finding trouble needs to find a way to get home sooner.
He couldn't have afforded to call a cab or hire a limousine? Why weren't his family and friends looking out for Johnson when he needed it most?
When Smith and Angelo staked their reputations on Johnson staying out of trouble after he was released from jail, it was with the assumption he had been scared straight.
They expressed faith that Johnson would be diligent about changing his lifestyle, minding his own business, living as close to a monastic existence as an NFL player can. They bought the act, as many of us, including Goodell, did.
There were 147 names of people who visited Johnson during his 60 days behind bars. They included Smith, Angelo, 15 teammates, Bears Chairman Michael McCaskey and Jesse Jackson.
He let those people down. He let every Bears fan in Chicago down. Most of all, he let himself down and he will have to live with those consequences.
"He has shown us his willingness to make changes for the betterment of himself and the people he cares about," Smith said on the day Johnson left jail last month. "We believe in him."
Now Johnson has made fools of good people, smart people, caring people who nodded enthusiastically when he predicted last month he had changed enough in jail to become the NFL Man of the Year.
Now those people are left to shake their heads at his lapse in judgment. Again.mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org