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RBR Question of The Day: character or collusion?

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Did the Shield rally ‘round to save face?

<p zoompage-fontsize="15">Auburn v LSU

Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Ah, character. That ole’ shibboleth trotted out to provide cover for an NFL GM who simply doesn’t want to sign a player, or is pressured into not doing so by the league.

But, when the rubber hits the road, talent usually does eventually out. Aldon Smith, Rolando McClain and Adrian Peterson stayed on rosters after their legal issues. Disgusting behavior by Tyreek Hill, Joe Mixon and Jeremy Hill didn’t keep them out of the league.

So, it is with great curiosity that the Derrius Guice draft kerfuffle unfolded.

2013 and why it matters with Guice

In 2013, in the wake the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell and Michael Sam’s coming out, the NFL found itself at the center of a discussion about gay players. But, for the Shield, it wasn’t a discussion so much as it was stepping into a PR quagmire. Some franchises, maybe anxious to avoid backlash from drafting another gay player or maybe to raise players’ ire through homophobia, asked select players during Combine interviews if they were into other men.

After a loud outcry and threats of litigation, the NFL promised to correct the behavior. Yet, it was alleged to have happened again in 2014 and 2015. Then, most recently and famously, it was alleged to happen in 2018 with one of the Draft’s most talented backs, Derrius Guice.

The Drop

Widely thought to be the second back off the board, Guice’s stock started to plummet in the weeks leading up to the draft. Coincidentally, this occurred about the same time that Guice alleged that yet again, an NFL franchise had questioned him about his sexuality. He also alleged in an interview with Sirius XM that another had asked whether his mother was a prostitute.

For over a month, Guice maintained that story. Then, on April 20th, “anonymous sources inside the league” said that Guice had walked-back those comments in subsequent conversations with teams. Guice has not publicly recanted; these are bare assertions by team reps. To date he, and everyone he has played with, have publicly defended his character.

Then, the week of the draft, Yahoo sports Charles Robinson published what can only be called a true hit piece on Guice, replete with tons of “team spokesmen” and “scouts” and “sources who wished to remain anonymous.” These sources alleged that Guice had a blow-up in his meeting with the Eagles; that he was late to several meetings; that he refused or couldn’t identify the team that had asked him inappropriate questions; that there were “undisclosed incidents” in college; that he was immature; and, damningly, that the NFL was unable to verify his claims. And all of these allegations confused him and those close to him, and none of which he was able to defend himself adequately against.

Guice is not known as a partier; he’s never been arrested; he’s never failed a urine screen; he’s never been disciplined. And, his draft stock still plummeted. It seemed to be a united Shield vs. draftee battle. The Shield won.

Does the NFL get the benefit of the doubt?

The NFL is probably the most buttoned-down and conservative of the nation’s professional sports leagues. By conservative I don’t mean politically, though the flag-wrapped league plays up that folksiness and it certainly exists among some of the league’s outspoken owners. Rather the stodgy conservatism the Shield strives for, and markets itself around, is that of carefully packaged stability, unity, strict hierarchy, and even stricter message control. It is message discipline that most political candidates would kill to achieve. Yet, at the same time the NFL also tries to embrace safe social issues and philanthropy to buff its oft-flagging image problems.

But, no man can dance on the edge of a knife and not get cut, and that makes the inevitable intrusion of the real world into the NFL darkly funny. The more it tries to micromanage every aspect of the league’s place in society, the more often it has blown up in their face.

Head offices want nothing more than to collect television money, but time and again the NFL finds itself at the intersection of social issues. From treatment of women, workplace discrimination, police brutality, retaliation for the exercise of rights by its players, and homosexuality in the league.

In every instance, the league has attempted to bury the PR problem, to cut back-alley deals, or to control messaging so to avoid blowback from politicians, advertisers and fans.

And all of that has happened in just the last five years.

<p zoompage-fontsize="15">NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Alabama

Ever notice how LSU running back highlights never feature Alabama?! LOL

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Shield does have a history of collusion, documented and otherwise, to make its problems go away: The owners meeting collectivism so as to avoid mean tweets and stump speeches, desperately trying to bury to some of its most egregious criminal offenders, secret salary caps, doing its best to hide CTE science.

Facing lawsuits on a variety of issues, and almost all of them painting the league in a bad light, what incentive would it have to disclose that a team had actually behaved inappropriately? And especially what incentive exists for the NFL to throw one of its franchises under the bus when the person making the allegation isn’t even in the league yet, and certainly not a super star to protect?

Why would we give the NFL the benefit of the doubt when it’s a trust the league hasn’t earned. Or, has it?

Is Guice just an immature liar — an attention-seeker who lost control of a situation that he created?

So, the question of the day is this:

Was Guice’s drop due to character or was the league engaging in more of its backroom CYA?

Before you answer, read the following quote from SI:

“What kind of impact will his family and friends have on his career once the checks start rolling in? He is considered a high-first round talent, one of the best ... Yet, at least one NFL team with a selection in the top 15 had already removed him from consideration.

He already had immaturity, issues with life skills. This is the same guy,” said an evaluator for the team. “We’re not in the market.”

Guice is a problem, clearly.

Oh, wait. That was a different guy — one who diluted his urine screen at the Combine and got into a physical altercation requiring him to be sent home from the Combine. And was a first-round draft pick.

So, color me skeptical that Guice’s character concerns are as-advertised from anonymous sources. The SEC is a bubble. It’s awfully hard to hide rumors in this league, especailly with obsessive fanbases looking for dirt, real and imagined. And, especially color me skpetical that rumored problems at the Combine only came to light the week of the NFL Draft. Is Guice a saint here? Who knows: He’s alleged to be goofy, likes video games, and to be decent kid with a nice reputation for under the radar good acts. But until proven otherwise, I’m not letting Goodell’s group off the hook based only on their word either.