Johnson not first Super criminal

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I’d give Chicago Bears defensive lineman and ballistics specialist Tank Johnson more credit, but having a SWAT team invade your house, turn up two assault rifles, four other guns and ammunition, then getting charged with 10 felony counts of illegal firearm possession is so predictable.

Not as in predictable for someone named Tank. It’s got nothing to do with him trying to live up to his nickname.

I mean predictable in that he’s an NFL player. Unfortunately, it’s becoming easier to expect the worst from pro football players, and the league doesn’t seem that concerned about it.

Carson Palmer seems to be worried. Finally. It only took nine arrests for the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback and a handful of his law-abiding teammates to express concern about how some Bengals are intent on trading Bengal stripes for prison stripes.

At least it only took the Bears four arrests (over about a year-and-a-half) to do something about Johnson. They suspended his for one game after his fourth arrest, although Bears’ general manager Jerry Angelo said the suspension stemmed from Johnson’s decision to go out to a nightclub just a couple of days after being arrested and not the arrest itself. Of course, the Bears probably wouldn’t have known, or at least punished Johnson, if not for his bodyguard being shot and killed that night.

Johnson was back on the field in plenty of time for the playoffs, and he’ll be in Miami this week after a judge ruled he could leave the state while awaiting trial.

Unfortunately, there’s plenty of precedent for criminal behavior casting a shroud over the Super Bowl. One year, St. Louis Rams defensive linebacker Leonard Little pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter after killing a woman in a drunk driving accident. The next, he was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. (Six years after that conviction was wiped off the books, he was arrested again for drunk driving). Ray Lewis was linked to a brawl that left two men dead during a post-Super Bowl brawl one year, then named the MVP of the big game the next. Given that history, Cincinnati fans might think their team’s chances of making next year’s Super Bowl have increased 900 percent thanks to their Blotter Bengals.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has to be less than delighted with the prospect of hundreds of reporters swarming Johnson during media day. There will be an outcry from some of them that the NFL should do something about Johnson poisoning Super Bowl week. But their cries will fall on deaf ears. Not in the league offices, necessarily, but across a football-crazed nation.

There’s not much the league can do about Johnson if the feds are allowing him to be there. The guy’s still got a right to make a living, I guess. The way to avoid such interference is to avoid employing guys like that in the first place.

But there will be little incentive for the NFL to take anything more than after-the-fact measures unless and until football fan and the general public make it clear we won’t tolerate such behavior.

I doubt that will be as high on our list of priorities this week as reserving a keg of beer or shopping for the right brand of salsa for this Sunday, though.

Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer. He can be reached via e-mail at rwhitehouse@sunjournal.com.

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