Before diving into the meat of this column, I think it’s important to establish the following.
1) I don’t believe football executives are obligated to be moral arbiters. Their primary duty is to put together a winning product, which often includes players with checkered pasts.
2) I believe in second chances. People make mistakes. Sometimes abhorrent, violent mistakes. But I don’t think every violent or morally objectionable act (keyword: every) should permanently deprive one of his livelihood.
3) I believe in the American legal system. It may not always get things right, it may be 100 marathons short of perfect, but I think it’s incumbent on society to recognize the difference between an allegation, a charge and a conviction.
Still, in the wake of defensive end Aldon Smith surrendering to Louisiana authorities for alleged battery just days after signing with the Seahawks, I can’t help but think back to a quote general manager John Schneider gave before the 2012 NFL draft.
“Suffice it to say, we would never, ever take a player that struck a female or had a domestic dispute like that, or did anything like that,” Schneider said.
And three years later, when asked if “putting hands on a woman” was still a deal-breaker, Schneider said yes.
But is it?
To be clear, Smith’s latest battery charge stems from allegations that he choked a man unconscious outside a coffee shop. In 2018, however, police were called to Smith’s home after he reportedly downed two bottles of tequila and bit his fiancee on the wrists.
Smith initially faced charges of domestic violence, assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury and false imprisonment. He ended up taking a deal in which he pleaded no contest to false imprisonment and violating a court order.
So, no, there isn’t a domestic-violence conviction on Smith’s criminal record — which includes multiple DUIs, a hit-and-run and possession of illegal assault weapons — but there’s a whole lot of smoke.
Of course, the Smith smoke is like a burning oven compared with the forest fire that surrounded defensive end Frank Clark in 2015. A police report showed pictures of Clark’s girlfriend looking battered, and included 1) a quote from her saying he punched her, 2) a quote from a witness saying she was “definitely beat up,” and 3) a quote from a female hotel manager saying he told her, “I will hit you like I hit her.”
Despite all that, the prosecution dropped the domestic-violence charges, Clark pleaded no contest to fourth-degree persistent disorderly conduct, and the Seahawks drafted him in the second round … without talking to any of the witnesses from the police report.
That story is well-remembered. What may be less so is Seattle signing cornerback Tramaine Brock two years later.
Brock was released by the 49ers in 2017 after being arrested and charged with felony domestic violence. The charges were eventually dropped after the alleged victim — who had visible injuries when police arrived — refused to cooperate. And though the NFL formally cleared Brock from violation of its personal-conduct policy in January 2018, the Seahawks picked him up the previous August before trading him to the Vikings two weeks later.
There’s also defensive tackle Jarran Reed. A police report from April 2019 said Reed put his hands around a woman’s throat and later dragged her across the floor (albeit not by the throat) during a party at his house. The woman said Reed’s grip around her neck didn’t hurt her, and that she never struggled to breathe — but it’s hard to say that doesn’t qualify as “putting hands on a woman.”
No charges were filed, but following an independent investigation, the NFL handed Reed a six-game suspension in July. Eight months later, the Seahawks signed him to a two-year extension.
OK, go back and read the three declarations I made at the beginning of this piece. I stand by them. It must be noted that none of the aforementioned players was convicted of domestic violence specifically. The same is true of receiver Antonio Brown, who Seahawks coach Pete Carroll expressed interest in despite unresolved sexual-assault accusations that got him dismissed from the Patriots.
Still, though none of these guys was proven guilty of DV beyond a reasonable doubt, one can reasonably doubt that DV is a major concern for the Seahawks’ front office.
To be fair, the Seahawks cut backup quarterback Trevone Boykin after he was hit with a domestic-violence charge in 2018, just as they did backup offensive lineman Chad Wheeler three months ago. But like Smith, both those players had some eyebrow-raising dust-ups with the law before Seattle signed them.
You take certain guys, you risk certain results. Doesn’t take a Mensa membership to understand that.
For the record, I like Schneider (who was not made available for comment), and think he is a genuinely caring person. I also like Carroll, who during his USC days would venture into Los Angeles’ underprivileged neighborhoods in an attempt to inspire the locals.
I don’t doubt that character plays a role in how these two construct a roster.
Just not as big a role as talent does.