Meet Adam “Pacman” Jones: On the field, a terrific force in the NFL. Fast, great instincts, a nose for the football. Off, a public nuisance — perhaps worse. Slow to see reality, gutless, a nose for trouble. The Titans love the first Pacman. They tolerate the second one. Too bad. Where there’s smoke, there is usually a raging inferno named Pacman Jones … the club owner said [he] came and left with the man who did the shooting.

Whether we want them to be or not, athletes do tend to represent us. They are ambassadors of what we value and how we compete. This speaks to the importance of having character guys on our teams. Yes, we want to win, but we don’t want to win at all costs. Haywood Hale Broun is noted for saying, “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” While sports should be teaching lessons about stronger teamwork or greater self-discipline, instead we get a “me, me, me” attitude, a culture of accommodation, and win at all costs mentality – all driven by money. Rarely is there anything to be appreciated as a “role model” among the athletes.

The Cincinnati Bengals set a record for number of players arrested for off-the-field antics. Closer to home, two Pacers were just indicted for their participation in a bar fight. The Indianapolis Colts running back, Dominic Rhodes, was just arrested on the suspicion of driving under the influence. Coach Tony Dungy said that “It’s disappointing. How that’s going to impact what we do, we’ll have to see down the road. But Dom knows that it’s something I’m very disappointed in. But we’ll sit down and go through everything and try to sort it out and try to be as supportive as we can.”

In America, we live under the presumption of innocence, and a grand jury indictment does not translate into guilt. However, as mentioned with Pacman, though, where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. The Colts have enjoyed a certain amount of a halo effect, in spite of Rhodes’ past domestic battery charge; in spite of Nick Harper’s domestic batter charge; and in spite of Mike Doss’ gun-firing incident. Like Bobby Knight when he was at Indiana University, we forgive a lot when you’re winning. You start to slide and all of a sudden you are cut a lot less slack.

Frankly, these athletes’ shenanigans embarrasses themselves, the cities they represent, and the game, distracting from what people should be focused on: the sport. The NBA, suffering through sagging ratings and attendance, attempts to rehab its image. Starting with dress codes to stiffer penalties for stepping onto the court to fight, the league wants to shed its “thug league” image. (Though, interestingly enough, the NHL was never characterized as a “thug league” despite the regularity of its on court tussles. That’s probably a blog for another day) . NFL players, protective of the league’s image, are sick of all the press for their stumblings off the field. The players themselves are taking the initiative to push for a “three strikes and you’re out of the league” policy.

Then again, maybe I’m making too big a deal out of all of this. Athletes, like actors or musicians, are entertainers. And as much as we, as a society, love to build people up, we love to tear them down, or at least make popcorn and enjoy their tumble from grace. We are just as entertained by the off-screen antics of our pop culture icons. Celebrities reduced to tabloid fodder, to the point where people can become famous strictly due to their tabloid exploits. Why should athletes be any different. The E in ESPN does stand for entertainment. And we are just as entertained by train wrecks as we are super star performances.

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