One of my mantras is that people don't change. That is especially true of high profile athletes. The behavior - good or bad -- developed and fostered early in their careers exhibits itself repeatedly, usually fueled by omnipresent enablers quick to compliment and slow to criticize.
We are in an era of high-profile tawdriness among our highest profile athletic stars. From Tiger to Big Ben and now LT, we are seeing patterns of behavior that have gone unchecked for years and, in the case of Taylor, decades.
No Big Surprise
When the news of an alleged rape by Lawrence Taylor surfaced the other day, I must admit my reaction was shockingly ho-hum. I do not know Lawrence Taylor and I apologize for the harsh judgment, but I do know people who played with him and coached him. They saw the steady relaxation of rules that led to his invariable sense of entitlement that has lasted beyond his years as an all-star player.
Taylor changed the way the game is played - and paid. I vividly remember watching him against my hometown Redskins and was there the night he ended the career of Joe Theisman (which serves as the opening for the movie "The Blind Side" and the impetus for the on-field and financial importance of the offensive tackle position).
However, Taylor, like Roethlisberger and Woods, was known as a nonstop partier off the field. The stories of Taylor showing up to practice hung over or even drunk have become part of Giants lore and, sadly, laughed about in reminiscing about the glory days. The league and the Giants tolerated his loutish behavior in an era long before the advent of the Personal Conduct Policy.
Although LT was suspended four games in 1998 after a second violation of the NFL drug policy, he admitted in his autobiography that he was switching urine vials with a teammate to hide his cocaine use (one of the reasons players are now watched as they produce a sample) and admitted later on "60 minutes" that he first tried cocaine during his rookie year and crack a couple years later.
Retirement from Game, not Trouble
Just because the game stops for players like Taylor, the lifestyle he developed as a player did not stop. Age, retirement and maturity apparently did not change Taylor. For a star of his wattage, there were still enough opportunities in the limelight to feel entitled and take advantage of the temptations that were out there.
Since the time he retired in 1994, Taylor has been in drug rehab several times, has been arrested trying to buy crack cocaine, arrested and convicted of drug possession, arrested and convicted of tax evasion, arrested for leaving the scene of an accident, and declared bankruptcy.
Throughout it all, Taylor was seen publicly at golf events chomping a big cigar and laughing it up with other celebrities or fawning fans, all part of the image of LT.
Where were people in his life that were not worried about LT the image but worried about Lawrence the person? Where were people telling Taylor what he needed to hear rather than what he wanted to hear?
Enabling to Stay Employed
As with A-list starts such as LT, Woods and Roethlisberger, many of the people surrounding these stars are paid to surround them. Others are there to enjoy the ride with the player, serving as appendages to the large living superstar.
Agents, friends, handlers, etc. become enablers by either looking the other way or, in some cases, facilitating immoral behavior.
I do not mean to be harsh, especially to agents. I understand their plight, having been in that world many years ago (although I did not represent players of this stature except Ricky Williams, who left me for Master P). Agents are trying to make a living and build their business, and having megastars like these keeps their businesses profitable.
And, as I have witnessed from the team side in many cases over the years, if an agent truly does not do what the player wants or tell the player what he wants to hear, there will be a new agent replacing him. It is a tough business, especially with the top guys.
Change in Words or Action?
Woods, Roethlisberger and eventually Taylor have had their press conferences and attorney-crafted statements proclaiming their regret for their actions and their intent to change.
Will they? Maybe while the world is watching over the coming months, but at some point their transgressions will become old news and the coast may be clear for a return to the behavior that, for all their sorrow, was something they were enjoying until they got caught. We may like to believe that they do but people like this usually do not change.