There is a new phrase in the National Football League these days. It usually appears in a sentence construction that goes like this: “We did our due diligence.” And we usually hear about “due diligence” around NFL draft time, which recently concluded.
Plain-truth translation from the NFL teams’ vernacular: “We just selected a horrible person to play for our football team. We know he’s scum, but he’s our scum and we need our fans to embrace him because he can help us win a Super Bowl. And rest assured, we did our due diligence in investigating his sordid background. Therefore, the larger society should rest easier.”
Usually in these cases, the “larger society” demographically means women. Especially young women, from high school age to mid-20s.
All of this leads us to Dede Westbrook, a wide receiver from the University of Oklahoma. He’s a dynamo on the field but has proved to be a danger off.
Background: According to the Tulsa World newspaper, Westbrook was at least twice arrested for domestic-violence incidents. In 2012, an 18-year-old Westbrook was accused of throwing the mother of two of his children to the ground, in Cameron, Texas. In 2013, he was accused of biting her arm and punching her in the face with his fist. In the summer of 2016, he was arrested for criminal trespassing, apparently after violating a restraining order.
The NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars selected Westbrook in the fourth round of the draft. Mike Freeman, NFL writer for the Bleacher Report, quoted Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell, in addressing the team’s justification of the selection, as saying, “I think we have done our due diligence enough to realize that is behind him and that, like we said, all of those charges were dropped. I think we all have been accused of things, not all of us, but many of us have been accused of things. We don’t take it lightly. Obviously, it is a serious issue, and we just feel like at this point in time to give the kid a chance to make it right.”
Well, well, it’s now about making it right. With a 24-year-old “kid” entrenched in self-inflicted wounds. However, in March, Westbrook told USA Today during NFL Combine scouting drills, “But as for me, I got in some trouble and I did some things as well, but I was never convicted of anything. Like, I’ve been to jail, but all the charges (were) dropped. I have no pending charges or anything. So, I think I’m just like you.”
Just like you. A peculiar comment, for sure. So that apparently suggests everyone has been charged with something, only to see the charges magically disappear. It sounds as if Westbrook attended the Kellyanne Conway School of Alternative Facts.
Note that, according to the Tulsa World, after Westbrook was arrested for domestic violence, the woman involved refused to cooperate with police investigators, apparently in an effort to protect Westbrook’s rise to football stardom then at Blinn College, a two-year school in Brenham, Texas. The physical domestic-violence incidents occurred before he transferred to Oklahoma in 2015.
And note that Albert Breer, an NFL writer for Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback posted on Twitter during the draft: “And then, there’s this text just now from an AFC area scout on Dede Westbrook: ‘No thoughts. It is what it is. He’s a degenerate.’’’
Perhaps a better question is simply one in reverse: What does it take to NOT get drafted these days by the NFL, one of the nation’s most powerful and immensely popular institutions?
A critic espousing the merits of the second, third, fourth chances defense may argue that Westbrook’s transgressions occurred before the game-changing Ray Rice Punch Seen Around the World. You remember the Baltimore Ravens’ running back who, in 2014, knocked out his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City elevator. After TMZ released the video for public consumption, the domestic violence in sports issue entered an entirely new realm.
And Ray Rice’s NFL career ended on the spot. Totally new frontier.
With the Rice Incident and that new frontier already in hindsight, how do you explain the stupidity of Caleb Brantley, a defensive lineman from the University of Florida?
Two weeks before the draft, he was involved in an altercation with a woman at a Gainesville, Florida, bar that became a demolition derby. Brantley allegedly knocked out one of her teeth as he punched her into an unconscious state.
Three years after the Rice Video, Brantley was arrested mere days before what should have been the highlight of his life. Like Westbrook, Brantley’s stock dropped in the NFL draft, being selected by the Cleveland Browns in the sixth round. The Browns’ rendition of “due diligence” involved usage of the wide-latitude “comfort-zone” defense.
Note what Browns Executive Vice President for Player Personnel Sashi Brown said of the team’s decision: “It’s something that we got comfortable enough at this point to make the decision. That doesn’t mean that Caleb is necessarily going to be on our roster as we move forward. We expect that he’ll come in here, we’ll have plenty of conversation about this and we’re happy to add him at this point in the draft.”
Despite all of the executive-level gobbledygook, those teams selected these two misfits anyway. Is it really because there is no known video of Westbrook and Brantley committing their acts of violence toward women? Unlike Rice. Therefore said teams feel a bit safer in their draft decision-making.
And despite accounts that she hit him first, note the police report cited that Brantley’s “use of force was clearly out of retaliation and not self-defense” and that his “force far exceeded what was reasonable or necessary.” A 6-foot-3, 300-pound man vs. a 5-6, 120-pound woman.
Most telling, no doubt.
One thing we know for sure regarding this new era: If these players (and there were other alleged domestic abusers selected in the draft) assault women again, not only should the player be removed from the league, the NFL executives who cleared the path in choosing them in the first place also should be jettisoned.
Why? Because it works both ways. It’s called doing our due diligence.