BY Art Thiel 08:08PM 11/26/2013

Thiel: Seahawks’ 2nd-chance ranch is distracting

Suspensions of Thurmond and Browner add to the pile of drug-bust distractions for Carroll, which can’t be erased by soaring rhetoric about second chances.

Pete Carroll likes his second-chance ranch, but even ranches have fences. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

While not exactly defiant, coach Pete Carroll was resolute Tuesday afternoon that the NFL-best, 10-1 Seahawks, rocked in the bye week by NFL drug suspensions of two defensive backs, would not be derailed.

“Not a bit, not a bit,” he told reporters at his first media scrum since suspension of Walter Thurmond, and the pending suspension of Brandon Browner, were disclosed. “It’s a very difficult situation for the individual. For us, we’ll march on and be OK about it.”

Carroll was speaking primarily of Thurmond, whose four-game suspension for street drugs was made official Tuesday. Browner, already out with an injury, is facing a one-year suspension because of multiple violations. He is heading into free agency, and the suspension well into next season likely means his Seattle career has ended.

Per NFL policy, Carroll wasn’t supposed to talk about Browner. He did talk generically about the second-chance ranch he operates, Browner being an example. He had a four-game suspension a year ago for performance-enhancing drugs.

“We will always look to give guys a second chance around here,” Carroll said. “The league has adjusted the rules. It allows a guy who is suspended to be with us. We are going to take care of him, look after him, bring him along until we get (Thurmond) back. We are disappointed.

“I know that over the years I’ve always found myself wanting to find guys that maybe need some considerations, some special opportunities, to do what they can do. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. Guys get in trouble, or something pops up.”

It has worked out most of the time for Carroll. But the failures are piling up. Browner is the first two-time suspension, but six players — seven if Richard Sherman’s positive test is counted (one that was dismissed on chain-of-custody technicality) — have been suspendee. The Seahawks are the NFL leaders in busts as well as wins.

Asked if he needs to recalibrate a message that isn’t getting across, Carroll said, “I think we’re constantly reinforcing the behavior, the mindset, and the mentality that we want. It’s hard to expect everybody to be exactly on point. If that’s what you think is going to happen, you’re going to be disappointed.

“It’s more about how to be able to adjust and move with it, and make most of the situation and overcome it. I would love to say that we haven’t had any issues and we clean it all up and there will be nothing there.  But that may not be the case, even as we move ahead.  We’re going to keep working for it. We’re going to keep expecting to be as perfect as we can get to be.”

But the Seahawks are falling sufficiently short of perfection that it becomes a distraction, as well as potentially divisive. Already targets of national criticisms and jokes, Seahawks players are jumping on their Twitter accounts to defend their teammates. Yet even Seahawks fans have a right to be dismayed at a potential jeopardy to their desires for a championship.

Tuesday night, Golden Tate wasn’t bashful about bashing the critics:

It’s that kind of foolish defensiveness that has potential for backfire. In his zeal to play Father Flanagan for a misguided player, Carroll seems to miss the point that the frequency of episodes by his players have made them targets for ridicule that can’t be glossed over with soaring rhetoric. Carroll seems to favor rehab over ruthlessness, which in most cases is commendable. But in his line of work, it can cost.

“It’s not about the issue itself — it’s about moving forward and taking care of the people that are involved,” he said, “and turning your focus on what is important. I’m not concerned about that at all, we’ve already done that and we’ll take care of business.”

Carroll is missing a point: The violations ARE of rules that the league and the union have agreed upon through collective bargaining. It doesn’t matter what Carroll’s views are of player welfare, or whether fans think it’s much ado about nothing, or a big deal because it’s cheating.

The league and the union have agreed to say nope to dope. The have agreed on a scale of punishments.  Some players get caught, some don’t, but more players get caught in Seattle than anywhere else.

This week, it means the Seahawks have lost two starters at the same position, and are working the streets to find replacements. The guy they signed Tuesday, free agent CB Perrish Cox, has a little history himself. As this story explains, Cox, then playing for the Denver Broncos in 2011, was charged with two counts of sexual assault. A jury trial found him innocent due to a lack of evidence, but the circumstances were filled with classic temptations that bring down pro ballplayers and teams.

How Cox works out as a temp is anyone’s guess. But Carroll, as with many of his successful contemporaries such as Mike Holmgren (Jerramy Stevens, Koren Robinson) and Bill Belichick (Aaron Hernandez), often flatter themselves in thinking that their words, and their teams, have a universal and positive effect on all.

Not so. Some players are beyond the reach of “special opportunities,” as Carroll called them. Not saying Thurmond and Browner are such cases, but casualty rate in the NFL for physical injuries is high, then throw in a few screw-offs, and the jeopardy is palpable.

Players who think they are smarter than the NFL drug policy, or their teammates, or women, or coaches, invite trouble that they and the clubs often cannot see, particularly in a social media age where there are no barriers between anonymous fans and easy targets. At minimum, it’s a major distraction.

That’s what the Seahawks have now. Carroll may manage it masterfully, but when an enterprise closes in on the summit of the sports industry, a single misstep can end the climb.


YourThoughts

  • ll9956

    The situation with Thurmond and now Browner is tragic for sure. There seems to be speculation that Browner’s, and possibly also Thurmond’s offense(s) involved the use of marijuana. In no way am I saying that the above behavior is wise or even permissible. However, if using pot is the reason for the suspensions, everyone on the accusing side seems to be ignoring the fact that in Washington, pot is now legal, with some restrictions.

    • hawks24

      does your job allow you to be high? just because it’s “legal” in WA doesn’t mean anything

      • Joe Fan

        Testing positive fo MJ doesnt mean they were high.

    • RadioGuy

      I understand what you’re saying, but I’m not sure “tragic” is the word to use in this context. What happened in The Philippines is tragic…at worst, what’s happened with Thurmond and Browner is “needlessly disruptive.” Both these guys knew what a special season 2013 has a chance to be for the Seahawks (or at least for their teammates), and didn’t care enough to NOT do whatever they did anyway. I feel no sympathy in particular for Browner, who should’ve known better after last year.

      Marijuana is, as you say, now legal in Washington but it is still illegal in all its forms at the federal level (the DOJ chooses not to pursue the matter here…yet) and it is still a banned substance in the NFL.

    • Steve

      Being legal has nothing to do with having a workplace restriction against it, in this case the League. He agreed to the employment terms of the CBA and the team.
      Carroll is missing the point that players broke the rules, pure and simple. Take your suspension, and maybe your job will be waiting for you upon return.
      The players suspended are selfish, just as Tate said.
      Pro athletes get proportionally more 2nd/3rd chances than any other profession because fans will pay to see a winning team disregarding the price paid to achieve it.

      • art thiel

        Well said, Steve. The decision to do drugs is reckless and selfish, given the restrictions of the CBA. And plain foolish, if you’ve already had a positive test that puts you on the watch list.

        I’d say entertainers and some CEOs and Wall Street bankers are indulged because of their capacities for making lots of people rich.

  • Jeff

    Pete certainly doesn’t have a patent on second chances, as last I checked Von Miller and Aldon Smith are currently still employed to give 2 recent examples… and the second chances must have their limits, as when this season ends, the only person of the suspended players remaining on the roster will be Bruce Irvin.

    • art thiel

      Good point, Jeff. NFL teams rarely disclose why players are cut, other than the generic injury settlement. And for 90 percent of the players, the differences are small enough that clubs can say they have found a better player. So most players who light up a blunt when they can be tested have little idea about how precarious their jobs are.

  • Kage McClued

    Release them now and get some defensive backs/players who will put the team first.

    And I don’t give a damn that pot’s legal in Washington: that provides zero excuse or reason, since legal or no, it obviously violates the leagues rules.

    Cut them and get someone else… anyone else.

    • art thiel

      The knucklehead factor is a part of every team, as is the desperation to win when careers are at stake. The team that manages those opposing factors best is destined for success.

  • jafabian

    Earlier today in a radio interview Tate stated that in some respects both Thurmond and Browner were selfish in their actions. That they put their needs in front of their responsibilities to their teammates and the Seahawks. I agree with him but not sure if that should have been said publicly. I don’t agree with defending Thurmond and Browner as some players seem to be but you can support them by staying out of the court of public opinion. But I do applaud Tate for properly putting things into perspective.

    That being said, I’m not sure if there’s much accountability going around here. The players are defending their friends and Coach Carroll is sidestepping the elephant in the room. (though he pretty much has to) There’s no excuse for what’s going on here. If this club ends up going 2-3 in their final five games and say they get bounced from the playoffs early how can these incidents not be revisited?

    I’m hoping there’s a mistake somewhere with Browner because with him becoming a free agent he is in danger of following the route of former Seahawk Darryl Turner who’s career ended after failing his umpteenth drug test. Browner is a beast at CB but I just don’t see the Seahawks investing in him if he ends up being suspended for a year. Hopefully Thurmond has learned from this.

    Not understanding the acquisition of Cox when he has a checkered past and there seems to be enough of that going around on the team. With a young team going into the playoffs you’d think some veteran experience would be preferred such as Marcus Trufant or Antoine Winfield but it looks like John Schneider is taking a page from the Bob Whittsitt book of GMing and going for talent. The Mariners have been going for the solid citizen types after the Josh Lueke fiasco however their records the past few years have had little reward.

    Lee Iacocca has said that when faced with adversity you need to put your anger and energy into something positive. That’s what the club needs to do now and have it galvanize them into going forward.

    • art thiel

      I don’t think the controversy is meaningful one way or another in the team’s attitude and approach. The problem is the talent dropoff in the secondary, which is steeper between Thurmond and Maxwell than Browner and Thurmond. And if Brees lights up (pardon the expression) the secondary Monday, you’re right that it will be a conversation starter.

  • oldcrimson

    So the ‘job’ thing is interesting. No doubt, it’s part of the CBA and the NFLPA signed off on it and so and so forth. But those of you (and I) who would get fired from our job for smoking weed presumably have some sort of link between drug use and the safety/responsibility of our job duties. These are air traffic controllers, bus drivers, teachers, civil servants, etc, etc. But I find it hard to believe that, say, someone in sales or finance, or any number of other professions, gets popped for smoking weed. Perhaps they get popped for being arrested, but that’s different and that’s not what happened here. I think this rule has to get shaken out in the next CBA and I think the legalization of marijuana in some NFL jurisdictions could create legal trouble for the NFL to continue to operate in this fashion.

    If an activity is legal and does not connect to the safety of your job, I’m just not sure you’re employer is on legal solid ground to suspend/fire you.

    • art thiel

      Progressive thinking for someone calling himself old crimson. I suspect that the next CBA will at least talk about dropping MJ from the list. But the NFL is never going to lead a charge on a social issue that troubles what they may view as a significant number of fans/corporate sponsors.

  • BigDoogie

    I just heard jason La Confora say on KJR that the Browner suspension is more of technicality rather than some recent test failure or whatever. It stems from Browner allegedly missing drug tests while playing football in Canada. These drug tests apparently resulted from his first bust back in 2005. Browner is claiming he was not informed by the NFL about the scheduling of the tests.

    La Confora was very vague, and said he could not give out too many details, but gave the impression that Browner could win his appeal. He hinted that the NFL might taken to court by Browner if he loses the appeal.

    • art thiel

      The issue is not phase one or three. My understanding is those were positive tests for substances of abuse. Phase two apparently is either a missed or unregistered test while he was playing in Canada but seeking an NFL job. The arbiter will have to rule on the nature of the the missed test.

  • BigDoogie

    Well, to be a little clearer: He was placed in the “stage 3″ phase of the NFL drug testing program as a result of missing tests in Canada. But Browner, according to him, was never made aware of this. It is so vague and hazy that we probably won’t know much about the timeline or real facts until after the ruling.

    • jafabian

      Players are made aware when they leave the NFL for the CFL if they intend to return to the NFL they have to keep in contact with the league and be consistent with the league’s required testing. Because you’re in the CFL doesn’t mean you can blow off NFL rules, especially if you want to return. I don’t know if it was “I wasn’t made aware” as opposed to “I don’t remember” for him. But as a Stage 2 player he was getting tested randomly and at least 10x a month and was made aware what happens at Stage 3. If he is guilty of this (and again I hope not) then either he wasn’t thinking or was very confident he could get by the tests.

      • BigDoogie

        Does that sound right to anyone? You must remain on a questionable drug testing program even if you leave the NFL. And you also must stay on it outside the country. Crazy Big Bro crap if you ask me.

        • art thiel

          The justification is that a player who continues to seek NFL employment is a member of the union and must abide by the CBA rules. It’s a stretch. But the bigger stretch is to suggest a missed test seven years ago is still a relevant consideration. Would an arbiter think that the intent of the rule, deterrence, is well served by such a delayed consequence? Dunno.

        • jafabian

          If you want to return to the NFL, that’s how it goes. I imagine it’s so players can’t think they can leave the league and return with a clean slate. I forgot to add that the Seahawks went over all the rules and what stage Browner was at when they signed him. So that’s why I don’t buy the “I didn’t know” explanation.

      • art thiel

        Yes, you have the possibilities right. Hard to say whether we will know. The agent and player have to volunteer the information about the suspension ruling. The league is prohibited by CBA from doing so.

    • art thiel

      True. We have a later story on the site that explains the sequence of events, upon which Browner is said to have based his appeal.

  • Effzee

    At the very least, as evidenced by the droves of pot-using elite athletic superstars, the conversation should shift to reclassifying pot as a performance enhancing drug.

    • BigDoogie

      I remember reading that Bob Marley’s band and entourage formed a tight little soccer team that practiced and played regularly. While living in England his team did quite well against other amateur teams. Who knows, maybe the weed helped their play. Occasionally they would score goals for the opposing team, though.

  • Shirley

    “This is your last chance, and I’m not talking
    about one of those Major League Baseball Steve Howe kind of last
    chances.” — Leslie Nielsen in Naked Gun 33 1⁄3 (1994)

    Or maybe it is.

    • art thiel

      Well played. May I call you Shirley?

  • PokeyPuffy

    A big part of leadership is focusing a group and working around distractions. Go Pete!

  • ollie swensen

    i believe in the premise of the article regarding the repetition of the same class of infraction. as for the innocence or guilt of any party, i would like to think that we are all held to the same procedure of innocent until proven guilty.
    as i understand it, currently there are individuals representing the nflpa and the commissioners office as to the circumstances of brandons first possible violation, and the possible appropriate penalty.
    stay tuned

  • Gerald Turner

    At least I am getting to hear some
    Seahawk talk on sports radio, the Seahawk news black out this year as
    been brutal, only Cowboys this, Patriots that, depressing. So yes,
    any team news is good news, sad to say, east coast bias, the program
    directors must tell the commentators that Hawk talk drives listeners
    away. If the Hawks have to be the bad guy to get talked about, so be
    it.

    Perhaps maiming baby Brees the cry
    boy will help with this reputation. Perhaps Bruce Irvin with a helmet
    to the chin, Hawks will give him something to cry about.