01/28/2013 04:52 pm ET Updated Mar 30, 2013

Character Matters

In the wake of recent devastating tragedies inside and outside of the NFL family, it is easy to be overcome with anger, confusion, and most of all, disappointment. Trying to understand what drives some people to make astoundingly callous decisions continues to perplex and dishearten me, as an American citizen and as NFLPA President.

When tragedies like the Sandy Hook shooting or the recent Aurora, Colorado hostage situation occur, we almost automatically look to differentiate ourselves from the assailant. It seems like somehow we are attempting to absolve ourselves, our culture, and our interest groups of any affiliation with the culprit. Often we ask "What is it about our culture that allows for such evil to manifest?" But does anyone sincerely think about the answer to that question without first absolving their own special interest groups? Gun control activists say it is the accessibility of guns; the NRA blames music, movies, and video games; almost everyone points to mental health as a root cause. It is really easy to say, "He was just crazy," and distance yourself from the scenario.

I, like everyone else, fell quickly in to that comforting pattern until the "culprits" were members of my family. When members of the exclusive fraternity of NFL players are those responsible for the deaths of innocent people due to gun violence and alleged vehicular manslaughter, you cannot help but ask yourself hard questions about the culture you perpetuate

By and large, the crucible that is the journey to the NFL leaves us with the smartest, most disciplined, "high-character" athletes this country has to offer. The expectations are very high and the resources we -- the NFLPA along with the NFL -- provide our players in the vein of decision-making, professional and personal development, and community engagement are top-notch. But that doesn't change the fact that our men are not perfect and some make extremely poor decisions that have dire consequences. As easy as it would be to attempt to disown the players who've made bad decisions, that is not the make-up of our men. These players are ours, although their actions and the consequences are theirs to accept and grow from. The natural reaction after events like these is to allow the cloud of emotions to cast a pall over the character of all NFL players. That would be wrong.

The recent retirement announcement of Ray Lewis has brought to light one of the most impressive NFL player redemption stories in recent years. Ray had some shadows over the early part of his career, learned from his mistakes and grew in to one of the most respected men in football and a beloved figure in the Baltimore community. While we're all proud of his unique journey, it is important to note that Ray's story is especially captivating because the vast majority of our league is comprised of guys that are model citizens and assets to their community from day one. No redemption journey necessary for the majority of NFL players. We understand personal responsibility and mostly exceed expectations of good citizenship.

Recently, I spent several days reviewing submissions of players nominated for the Byron "Whizzer" White NFL Man of the Year Award. Byron White was a pro football player, WWII Veteran, humanitarian, and Supreme Court Justice known for decisions that lean both left and right on some of the most significant cases in American history: Roe v. Wade (abortion), Brown v. Board of Education (desegregation), and Miranda v. Arizona (Miranda rights). What could be considered a tedious exercise, reading page after page about the 24 finalists, quickly became a comforting reminder of the overwhelming benevolence of the men that play this game for a living. The pain and loss resulting from the decisions of members of our NFLPA family is real, and these actions will leave scars on the hearts of all people affiliated with this league. But our grief and disappointment puts into stark relief the countless stories of players whose commitment and character can serve as inspiration for us all during these especially dark times.