November 19th, 2004 is a day that will live in infamy for Indiana sports fans. That night, former Indiana Pacer Ron Artest and others climbed into the stands and fought with fans during an early-season game against the Detroit Pistons after a fan threw a cup of beer on Artest while he lay on the scorers’ table. In the years following, there were several brushes with the law linked to the Pacers, including players like Jamaal Tinsley, Marquis Daniels and Shawne Williams. This kind of behavior does not sit well with the laid back landscape of Indiana and its fans. The fans had enough of it. The use of the word “thug” was rampant when talking about the Pacers. Any little thing that would happen with the organization – even if tempers naturally flared during a game – would send fans ranting about the “thugs” the Pacers had on their team. So, although it led to struggles on the court, the Pacers front office got rid of all of the players who had trouble off of the court.
The key to that? The team got rid of those players.
We were now graced with squeaky clean players like Mike Dunleavy. Although most or all of the troubled players were gone, some of the fans would not let it go. Some would still refer to the brawl like all of the players were still on the team and would refer to the current players like they were in Detroit in 2004 kicking fans in the face. The word “thug” still rang supreme. Nowadays, in Indiana some of the older, uneducated fans will still go back to those days and treat the current players like they are criminals, but it is rare to come across those arguments, luckily. I can say I am glad most people have gotten past it and can realize there is really nothing linking the team to 2004 anymore.
So, what does this have to do with the Colts? Well, in the past two weeks, Colts wide receiver LaVon Brazill and safety Joe Lefeged have both faced discipline over illegal activity. Brazill was suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season for substance abuse, and Lefeged was arrested on weapons charges and will likely face discipline from the team and/or NFL because of it. These were two incidents in a magnified offseason of trouble for the NFL and its players. This offseason has seen now-former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez arrested for murder, former Lions receiver Titus Young arrested for a multitude of offenses and Browns defensive lineman Desmond Bryant arrested for criminal mischief, among many other players arrested and suspended for multiple reasons.
Since the Pacers incident in Detroit, the Colts have not strung together a ton of trouble. There have been isolated incidents that have been dealt with, such as John Gill’s public intoxication charge, and Ed Johnson, Javarris James, Dexter and Darrell Reid’s marijuana charges. However, there is one incident that really sticks with fans no matter what the player does. In 2010, punter Pat McAfee was arrested in Broad Ripple for public intoxication. The story is unique, so it sticks with fans, but McAfee has done so much to recoup his image. So much so, that he can be considered a lot of people’s favorite player on the team. He is very open and frequently converses with fans on Twitter. He also appears on popular local radio shows like “Bob and Tom”, “The Dan Dakich Show” and “The Ride with JMV” frequently. He has a magnetic personality and he is quite hilarious. He has opened himself up a lot for the fans to embrace him, and most of us have. However, there are still those casual fans that refuse to see what the guy is really all about and will just remember him for the incident. Some people have a problem letting things go and educating themselves.
So, with the recent rash of incidences across the NFL and in our own backyard, and with the reputation the Pacers developed with the community in the mid-2000’s it will be very easy for the fans in Indianapolis to reach back into our bag of tricks and pull out “thug”, “gangster” and “criminal”.
How about we focus on the positive instead? After all, that is what occurs so much more than the negative. Maybe we should focus on the charitable efforts of McAfee and other players like Matt Overton, Cory Redding, Brandon McKinney and Antoine Bethea. Players like these, along with other Indiana sports figures like Andrew Luck, Dwayne Allen, George Hill, Roy Hibbert and Tamika Catchings set a great example for people in the community and represent the portion of the players the fans really ought to be focusing on.
Think of it this way, if you have multiple children and one of them has spent time in and out of jail, would you like for people on the outside to refer to your whole family as criminals? No, you would not because it is not accurate. The NFL has roughly 1,700 players in it. Do not let the players that get themselves into bad situations shape your entire perception of a team or of a league. These guys are humans just like you and me. They will make mistakes and they will do things they regret. Hey, some of them probably are just bad apples just like we have in society.
There is an argument that these guys are in the public image, so they are basically role models by default and should know better than to put themselves in these situations. You will not get any argument from me on that. Just about every time I see one of these players doing something reckless or stupid, I just think “Man, what are you doing?” But, you know what? Not everyone thinks in terms of immediate consequences. Some people will just get caught up in something and not realize the error of their ways until the deed is already done – just like the rest of us.
My request is that you think before you judge an entire organization over one or two players. Be educated. Be smart. Be open-minded. Be better than someone who refers to a whole team as ”thugs” because they have a player or two that has issues. As a society, we usually tend to point of the negative, but just know that there is way more positive constantly happening in the background that needs to be acknowledged.