Seemingly a daily occurrence nowadays, athletes are constantly making headlines for their off the field antics. Arrests, lawsuits, and poor financial judgement land these players and their teams in hot water in every major sport. Teams are often aware of the red flags in a player’s past before they offer a contract to an athlete who winds up in such a situation, giving them a chance to straighten out their life while playing the game they love. The question that has to be asked as a result of this situation is whether or not athletes deserve the second chance they are so often given by sports franchises.
Looking around the sporting world, it is easy to find examples of formerly troubled athletes who have turned their life around with the second chance they were given and as a result greatly benefited the team that took the risk of granting that player a contract.
Josh Hamilton is an example of an athlete who has made the most of the second chance he has been given. A free agent last year, teams were reluctant to pony up the cash required to sign a player of his unquestioned talent due to the baggage that would inevitably come with. Problems with drugs and alcohol, as well as various spats through the media with coaches and teammates made signing the talented ball player a risky proposition.
However since joining the Los Angeles Angels, he has avoided such troublesome behavior and became a positive member of the team. The Angels acquired him for well below the market value for someone who is considered by many to be the most talented player in the major leagues. However he is a guy that former teammate in Texas Mike Adams described as “a different guy sometimes. Every day you hope that Josh comes to the ballpark, shows up and plays like Josh Hamilton. Sometimes he shows up, and you don’t know which Josh Hamilton is going to show up at the ballpark.”
On the other hand the risk is often not worth the reward. Negative publicity, suspensions and fines do not reflect well on the team employing the troubled athlete. There are at least as many athletes who have disappointed their team after receiving a second chance as those who have panned out.
The amount of money that is generated by professional sports makes this one of the highest stakes gambles a team can take. Teams such as the NFL’s New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, and Cincinnati Bengals have become some of the biggest risk takers in sports, often with a negative result. Players who are in the headlines become a distraction for these clubs and can often cause a split in the locker room, hurting the overall performance of what could have been an above average team. It should come as no surprise that these teams have not won a title in some time.
There may not be a better counter argument to the case of Josh Hamilton than former NFL wide receiver Titus Young. An extremely talented player coming out of Boise State, Young was never able to shake the run ins with the law that caused concern for many teams throughout his brief career. Countless arrests followed him wherever he went in the NFL. Detroit saw him suspended, removing a bonafide threat from the lineup to compliment Calvin Johnson, and in St. Louis he was never even able to take the field due to a string of arrests. A distraction wherever he landed, he only hurt every team he belonged to, and now at just 23 years old, he is out of sports with little chance of a return.
The question of whether or not athletes deserve a second chance has taken a heightened importance, at least in my humble opinion, in the wake of the on going investigation into Aaron Hernandez’ role in a murder. Hernandez raised red flags prior to being drafted by the New England Patriots in 2010 due to several suspicious activities with friends off the field, as well as a tough guy attitude that rubbed some the wrong way. Marijuana use and anger issues stemming from the death of his father concerned scouts most.
A first round talent, Hernandez slipped to the fourth round, and was considered one of the biggest risk-reward picks in the entire draft. Now with a pending lawsuit in regards to a shooting incident in March, as well as the murder of a friend he was seen at a bar with the night of the murder, Hernandez has caused a major distraction in New England heading into training camp.
Whether or not Hernandez is guilty, he has hurt his team by causing such a large stir. Bill Belichick doesn’t like the media circus that comes with being in the spotlight as it is, and when players make headlines he isn’t one to embrace their antics. He may just find himself out of a job as a result of this investigation, regardless of whether or not he is actually arrested for his role in the homicide.
When Hernandez contract is up with New England, he will be a high profile athlete asking for a second chance from a potential suitors. The risk in signing him is easily apparent, as well as his talent. Teams will have to way the consequences of bringing him in, undoubtedly scaring many away.
The question of whether or not an athlete deserves a second chance is a tricky one. Bringing in a talented player with baggage is a high stakes gamble that teams are perhaps over-anxious to make in the present day. Many have turned their lives around as a result, but many more have continued the destructive path they had previously been on, hurting their team as well as themselves in the process.
What do you think, do athletes deserve a second chance? Would you support your team bringing in an athlete with baggage for a huge contract? Vote in the polls below, and leave feedback in the comments.
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieGille
Senior Sports Editor
The Guardian Express