Like most people, Leroy Hill was sound asleep Saturday at 4 in the morning. What put the Seahawks linebacker into the news was that he was sound asleep in the driver’s seat of his car, and his car happened to be sitting at a busy intersection in suburban Atlanta.
When a policeman detected the scent of something suspicious in the car – as if passing out at a busy intersection weren’t suspicious enough – Hill was arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
Some perspective is in order. Falling asleep at a busy intersection has its hazards, not the least of which is arousing the road rage of drivers who aren’t in a forgiving mood so early in the morning. But on the menace-to-society scale, falling asleep in a parked car at 4 a.m. isn’t nearly as dangerous as speeding through a school zone at 4 p.m.
As for the marijuana, there’s no excuse for keeping even a small amount of it in a car. But again, on the menace-to-society scale, Hill, as far as the police could determine, was not distributing his stash to school kids.
If I were general manager of the Seahawks, I would call Hill and inform him that his knuckleheaded conduct is an embarrassment to the organization. I would be very loud, and very profane, and upon hanging up, I would continue to plot offseason moves that may or may not include designating the linebacker as a franchise player worthy of a one-year contract in the neighborhood of $8.5 million.
But I am not the general manager of the Seahawks. Tim Ruskell is general manager of the Seahawks, who under his watch have been assembled on the premise that their physical ability is complemented by an intangible quality vaguely defined as “good character.”
It makes sense to build a team with good-character guys. The coach doesn’t have to worry about suspensions disrupting the depth chart. The marketing department doesn’t have to wince when promoting insufferable jerks as fan-friendly fixtures of the community. The medical staff doesn’t have to monitor injuries sustained in bar fights and street brawls.
Meetings begin on time, practices end on time, flights take off on time. Good-character guys keep the headaches to a minimum.
The problem is determining what, exactly, defines “good character.” Hitting a spouse or a girlfriend, it seems to me, is not consistent with good character. Yet the Seahawks’ roster contains two players – Sean Locklear and Rocky Bernard – who have served suspensions for domestic violence.
Failing a drug test, it also seems to me, is not consistent with good character. Yet the Seahawks continue to employ defensive back Jordan Babineaux.
An arrest for driving while intoxicated can’t be an indication of good character, but one of the reasons Hill could be considered expendable is that the linebacker position is a team strength, thanks to Lofa Tatupu. Last summer, he copped a guilty plea to a DUI charge.
Accumulating a rap sheet thicker than a Tolstoy novel, as Koren Robinson has done, definitely is not consistent with good character. The Hawks, desperate for healthy receivers, reacquired Robinson last season. They were pleased enough with his performance that he’ll be invited to training camp this summer.
It could be argued that Bernard and Locklear had no previous incidents, and that they deserved a second chance. Same with Babineaux and Tatupu. And it’s clear Robinson is a changed man – a case study in the wonders of rehabilitation.
But the question persists: What defines good character? The question persists because some of the most upstanding citizens are capable of acts of pettiness and deceit, and some of the most despicable thugs are capable of bravery and poise in a crisis.
No NFL player held a more sterling reputation among both his peers and the public than former Seahawks free safety Eugene Robinson. On the night before the only Super Bowl appearance of his career, he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute in Miami – 12 hours after he accepted the Bart Starr award, presented by Athletes in Action, for “high moral character.”
No NFL player is more reviled by fans than Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis, acquitted of murder charges in a street fight that left two men dead, but found guilty of obstructing justice during the investigation. Lewis has a charity foundation that serves food to the homeless in Baltimore.
And oh, by the way, in the only Super Bowl appearance of Lewis’ career, he became the first linebacker to win the game’s MVP trophy in 30 years.
Give Ruskell this much: At least he thinks he’s worthy of judging the suspect hearts and minds of otherwise elite pro athletes. I wouldn’t know where to start, or what questions to ask.
All I know is this: If Leroy Hill isn’t told that he’s no longer wanted in Seattle, then Tim Ruskell needs to stop talking about character. If the behavior of a potential draft choice raises red flags, pick somebody else. Just don’t tout the guy you do get for sainthood. Don’t even go there.
Because you can’t have it both ways. You can’t establish good-character guys as the bedrock of the franchise, and then offer $8.5 million to an idiot who was so stoned Saturday morning, he fell asleep at a busy intersection.
John McGrath: 253-597-8742; ext. 6154