As with Ryan Leaf, Aaron Hernandez, Percy Harvin, and maybe with Jameis Winston, football teams are sometimes incapable of altering player behavior. Why risk so much?
After committing the most stupendous WTF moment in the history of American team sports in front of largest audience in the history of American television, the Seahawks, in the next big moment on the NFL calendar, committed a more stupendous WTF moment.
The typography industry has yet to make an exclamation point of sufficient size for the occasion.
News that the Seahawks never bothered to talk to the eyewitnesses in top draftee Frank Clark’s violent encounter with his then-girlfriend in November, after assuring reporters Friday that they did a very thorough investigation, is the most significant blow to the credibility of the Pete Carroll regime — far more odious than the bollixed play at the goal line that cost a second consecutive Super Bowl triumph.
Clark was thrown off the University of Michigan team following his arrest for domestic violence. But the victim, Diamond Hurt, declined to press charges, and Clark’s case was pleaded down to disorderly conduct, leaving open to speculation about what really happened.
But there is no dispute of these facts:
Neither the desk clerk at the Sandusky, OH., hotel where the incident occurred, nor the two women in the next-door room who heard the commotion and saw the victim semi-conscious on the floor, were contacted about what they saw by the Seahawks — an admission the club offered in a Tuesday statement.
“He beat the living crap out of her,” Stephanie Burkhart, a hotel clerk on duty at the Maui Sands that night, told KING5 Tuesday, speaking of Clark and Hurt.
“She looked unconscious,’’ Kristie Colie, one of the two hotel guests who responded, told the Seattle Times Tuesday. “She looked like she was knocked out, and then she started to move slowly.’’
Her friend, Lis Babson, told the Times Hurt “was just laying there. She looked like she was unconscious to me.
“The kids were saying, ‘He killed my sister!’ ’’ (two young children in the room were identified as Hurt’s brothers).
None of the three witnesses were contacted by authorities investigating the case nor the Seahawks, who issued a statement Tuesday afternoon:
“We conducted an extensive independent investigation that included confidential interviews with people directly involved with the case. That investigation provided our organization with an in-depth understanding of the situation and background. With the exception of Frank, we did not directly speak to any witnesses from that night.”
Burkhart was reported to be startled by the media call from Seattle, and the two hotel guests said they gave written statements to police the next day, but never heard back.
“I would have remembered (a call from the Seahawks),” Burkhart told KING5 by phone. “No message. Nothing.
“He shouldn’t be playing, period.”
Additionally, Greg Mattison, a Michigan defensive assistant coach, told KJR Tuesday that he never was contacted by the Seahawks about Clark.
“I don’t think I talked with anybody from the Seahawks but I had a lot of calls from a lot of organizations,” Mattison told host Dave Mahler. Mattison didn’t reveal the other teams; Clark was taken in the second round with the 63rd pick.
Knowing how significant the issue of domestic violence has become around the NFL, knowing that GM John Schneider was, before the 2012 NFL draft, strident about avoiding players involved with DV — “We would never take a player that struck a female or had a domestic violence dispute like that,’’ he said — and knowing Schneider was scouting in Ann Arbor at the time Clark was thrown off the team and had access to people and information, it stretches credulity to say the Seahawks’ investigation was thorough on the matter.
But that’s what he said Friday night.
“Our organization has an in-depth understanding of Frank Clark’s situation and background — we have done a ton of research on this young man,” said Schneider, reading nervously from handwritten notes. “There’s hasn’t been one player in this draft that we have spent more time researching and scrutinizing more than Frank. That is why we have provided Frank with this opportunity, and we look forward to him succeeding in our culture here in Seattle.”
If the Clark assessment is the result of Schneider’s best research, there is a silver lining in this debacle — the nation is grateful Schneider did not choose a career in counter-terrorism.
At work here is plain old foobaw — a desperate urgency to win at almost any cost. Schneider, as with many of his contemporaries and predecessors, sees what he wants to see in difference-making talents.
Bobby Beathard was general manager of the San Diego Chargers in 1998 when, failing to acquire via trade the No. 1 pick that became QB Peyton Manning, traded up to get the No. 2 pick — QB Ryan Leaf of Washington State. It was one of the greatest mistakes in NFL personnel history.
“We had concerns about Ryan and we thought we could work through it, and it backfired,” Beathard, retired at 78, told ESPN.com this week. “We just made a big mistake . . . Sometimes you see a guy with so much ability that you think, ‘We can’t pass this guy up. We can change his character.’ But boy, changing someone’s character is a really hard thing to do.”
Beathard’s quote was part of a story about another high draft pick in the draft — the No. 1 choice, QB Jameis Winston of Florida State, taken by Tampa Bay. Writer Ian O’Connor’s premise: Winston, subject of multiple transgressions including a rape charge, represents the biggest gamble in modern draft history.
Beathard’s quote was revealing because of his use of the term “character,” which is a meaningless euphemism that reduces any number of human pathologies into some sort of correctable moment: As in, “Don’t hit women. Don’t take drugs,” as if it were a lesson forgotten or unlearned, and thus teachable.
Many spend decades learning right from wrong, even lifetimes, and some never figure it out. But it has nothing to with character, which is the aggregate of features and traits that form individual nature. Behavior, constructive or destructive, is the sum of genetics and environment whose mix, benign or volatile, is usually beyond the reach of the average football team to influence.
Behavior modification was certainly beyond the reach of the best team in NFL, otherwise a couple of weeks ago, we may have seen Aaron Hernandez in the White House instead of the jailhouse, convicted of murder.
That does not mean that every kid who was a bully, thug or otherwise a reprobate can’t become a productive adult citizen. We all know many examples.
But when it comes to choosing employees for perhaps the most scrutinized jobs outside of the presidency, why hire a person to a publicly adored organization who was thrown off one of the nation’s most high-profile college teams for an episode that only six months earlier produced evidence via publicly available photos and eyewitness testimony that he did a really bad thing? And inflaming nationally a debate that could not be more socially provocative?
There wasn’t another pass rusher in the draft?
If the Seahawks needed more help in the decision, maybe they could have called the hotel desk clerk.
Unless, of course, they were afraid they would have been told again they should have run the ball.