Wiedmer: Does NFL need to have a gun-and-done policy?

Wiedmer: Does NFL need to have a gun-and-done policy?

July 1st, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

In this Nov. 18, 2012, file photo, Indianapolis Colts safety Joe Lefeged watches from the sidelines during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Remember when "Look at the guns on that guy!" was a good thing?

Remember when the two biggest names in the National Football League were Brady and Manning rather than Smith and Wesson?

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell no doubt does. He also knows that when Indianapolis Colts safety Joe Lefeged became the league's 28th player to be arrested since the Super Bowl after Washington. D.C., policemen found a semi-automatic weapon in his possession early Saturday morning, the public is going to jump to the conclusion that where there's gunsmoke, a firestorm of criticism is sure to follow.

In Lefeged's case, there was no smoking gun, but merely a pistol he failed to register in the D.C. area, which has some of the nation's toughest gun laws.

But coming on the heels of the Aaron Hernandez case, where the former New England Patriots tight end is facing first-degree murder charges involving the death of Odin Loyd -- who was shot five times before being dumped in an industrial park near Hernandez's home -- Lefeged's arrest only heightens the concern that the NFL has become the National Firearms League.

This isn't to say Hernandez is guilty, or that the league isn't reflecting society in general. Just last week, Massachusetts-based gun manufacturer Smith and Wesson reported that its fourth quarter sales more than doubled from a year earlier. Business continued to boom over the first quarter of this year.

Former New England Patriots football tight end Aaron Hernandez

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

The majority of the country may support tighter gun laws, but those who worship at the base of the old NRA bumper sticker "You can take my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands," are more determined than ever to fight harm with arms.

Beyond that, for all its bad-boy image, the NFL has actually been slightly behind the national average when it comes to running afoul of the law. According to the FBI, 4 percent of the American public was arrested for something other than traffic violations in 2011. The NFL percentage for that year was 2.8 percent.

So perception versus reality is clearly in play here.

And though the league was previously stung by the Rae Carruth murder-for-hire conviction in 2001 involving his pregnant girlfriend, the Hernandez case is, thankfully, far from an everyday occurrence, however horrid its details.

The NFL may be full of men behaving badly, but their misdeeds have rarely reached the level of a murder charge.

Still, 28 arrests since the Super Bowl -- and more than 50 over the past calendar year -- should raise eyebrows. Especially when the last week not only included the Hernandez and Lefeged arrests, but also former Cleveland Browns rookie linebacker Ausar Walcott, who was charged with attempted first-degree murder and lesser charges after punching a man in the face at a strip club in New Jersey.

The man remained hospitalized and in critical condition four days after the attack, a clear example of the power and agility of NFL athletes.

For his part, Goodell has long vowed to clean up the NFL's image and those FBI statistics hint that it may be working overall.

But guns are different, especially in the hands of young adults who've often spent the majority of their lives using force to settle disagreements.

Or as veteran defensive lineman Tank Johnson -- currently an unsigned free agent -- told the league's rookies last week, "While you're playing in the NFL, you do not need a firearm for any reason."

It could be argued that Johnson's once promising career has been all but destroyed by his obsession with guns. It forced Goodell to suspend him for eight games in 2007. It has haunted him more than once in the years since.

But while speaking to the rookies, Johnson said, "The NFL does a great job of putting these resources around you where you don't need a firearm."

According to a Buffalo News article, Johnson then told of his car being burglarized and how he wanted a gun to confront the two men he believed had done the crime. He went to a gun store the next day to purchase a Glock pistol, but while in line decided to call Goodell.

The commissioner told him, "Tank, put the gun down." Then the NFL offered to put a security detail at Johnson's home to protect both him and his property, which is fairly standard procedure.

If the charges against Hernandez are proven true -- that he either killed or ordered the killing of Lloyd -- that murder would likely have occurred regardless of gun laws. Madness, particularly when paired with money, can be difficult to stop.

But Johnson's advice for young people to get rid of their guns is spot-on whether they play in the NFL, watch NFL games on TV or clean up NFL stadiums afterward.

Goodell suspending any future players violating gun laws for eight or more games without pay -- a minimum of half the season -- would be a good beginning.

Putting the guns down -- for good, forever -- whether you're an NFL player or not, would be best for everyone everywhere.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.