Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Bengals... and their arrests

Now I may be off target on this post so please cut me a little slack as I explore my thoughts (or perhaps they are better framed as questions). For those not in the loop, the 9th Bengal in just over a year (Jonathan Joseph) was arrested for possession of MaryJane and will be arraigned on Feb. 5, the day after the SuperBowl.

The Bengals have been the butt-end of jokes for the last year due to the bone-headed behavior of some of their younger players, which has included drunken driving and illegal possession of fire arms. I'm not sympathetic to their behaviors individually at all. I want to say that "up front." And I totally understand the fabulous source material for tsk-tsking the team that these arrests provide to radio show hosts, sports journalists and the water cooler Monday morning bag-fest.

Still, I can't shake a nagging suspicion.

Are the Bengals really the only team in the NFL with a bunch of obscenely paid, immature athletes who get drunk and smoke weed? Really?

Somehow our fair city got all the bad apples out of the barrel of NFL draft picks? They all rolled down the chute to Cincinnati and missed Tampa Bay or Miami or even San Diego (drug dealer haven of "Traffic" fame)?

I can't believe that. So I've been wondering why the Bengals are getting caught. I mean, I'm glad drunk drivers are being pulled over and dragged from their vehicles... I really am. But are all the other superstar athletes in every other city and sport just that much better at hiding their dope? At staying out of vehicles while under the influence?

Or is it just possible that in Cincinnati, a higher number of blacks get pulled over while driving than in other cities? I'm just sayin'. I do know that the arms arrest happened outside of Cincinnati so I will exclude that one from my discussion.

Still, I have to know. Is it possible that "Driving While Black" is part of what's going on here? I've heard anecdotal reports and I've read some studies that suggest that Cincinnati is more zealous about stopping black drivers than other cities. Could that be what's going on here, partly?

It's not that I hope that drunks will be overlooked on the road. I want to make that clear. But I still can't quite shake the question of whether or not the style of police work in Cincinnati is partly responsible for the much higher number of arrests than we see in other cities with equally high profile athletes.

In 2002, a bill was passed intending to reform the Cincinnati police department's mistreatment of African Americans in arrests and particularly in pulling them over while driving.

Yet in 2005, (scroll down) Cincinnati was still in violation of that agreement. You have to wonder. Old habits die hard? Hard to catch the police when they side step clear instructions? What IS the deal?

As I was thinking about all this today, I heard Keith Olberman on Dan Patrick's show jokingly suggest that instead of seeing Joseph's arrest and the other 8 as examples of "bad Bengals" we could reframe the description of these nine arrests by saying that they are examples of "good police work." Dan laughed and then the two of them riffed about the "crack job" that the Cincinnati police are doing, that they are better at finding and arresting drunken athletes than other cities, etc.

So in a way, Dan and Keith had stumbled onto my own question, but without seeing that it may also have a potentially insidious meaning as well.

It gave me pause.

The seed has been planted in all our minds here, that in Cincinnati, blacks get "preferential" treatment while driving... to the Bengals peril.


Bilbo said...

Hi Julie,

The San Diego Chargers had a large number of high profile arrests as well but that was overlooked, I guess, because the Chargers had the best record in football. Here is another possible explanation...For four and a half years, until last month, I lived in a neighborhood of predominantly minorities, mostly blacks and Hispanics and I can tell you that the area was crawling with cops. Now I live in a more upscale predominantly white neighborhood and I never see any cops...my point...If your neighborhood is crawling with cops than you are going to have more arrests. It's just that simple. Of course, some will assert there are more cops in my old neighborhood because there is more crime...but...it is kind of which came first...the chicken or the egg...argument...imo...Personally I do think there is a widespread perception that poor people and minorities commit more crime...but...I would suggest it "may" be true for "certain" types of crimes...but...I also believe wealthier white people commit crimes that they often get a pass on which suggests a double standard. Just look at Rush Limbaugh and his addiction to pain pills. What's the "real" difference between him and the poor folks who smoke weed to numb the pain of their poverty and loss of hope?....and....we are horrified when the blacks were stealing t.v.'s in New Orleans after the hurricane but how much worse damage is done by the Enron like folks who destroy the hopes of dreams of thousands by their greed...I am not implying that any of this is right but am suggesting there may be a lot of hypocrisy going on when it comes to crime and who is committing it....

brian said...


My view of this surely is colored by my experience with the police. But, I think what you ask is, at least, a valid question.

Related to this question, the other day I was having a discussion with some very conservative, very Republican, White Evangelicals. My point, is these are people who are not typically looking for prejudice. One of the guys owns a company and he is very upset that his hispanic workers are now being harassed in Cincinnati. One guy got pulled over twice on the way to work (in the same day). My friend was telling me this is happening to a lot of his hispanic workers. Given the source I heard this from, I have to believe there is something to it.

I can't believe the Bengals (even as young as they are) continue to make the stupid choices they make. Even if they are being pulled over at an "unfair" rate, they are committing the crimes. When people have as much at risk as they do (multimillion dollar careers), you'd think they'd take a little more care (like hide the dope better, hire a driver). C'mon boys. Grow up, just a little. Often people accuse blacks of looking for racism (which some of us do, some of the time). But, there's an old joke: Just because you are paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.


julieunplugged said...

Bill, that's what I'm thinking too - that there is just more policing being done in Cinci than other cities, perhaps. This isn't that big a city either compared to say, Chicago or LA.

And Brian, I agree with you totally that these guys have to clean up their acts. Whether or not the police are overly zealous is not an excuse for repeatedly getting into criminal situations!

I have wondered about the Michael Vick arrest and then subsequent exoneration... how could the Miami airport mistake what he had stowed in his water bottle for marijuana if it was not, in fact, marijuana? That one I am still scratching my head over... did someone rig a deal?

I didn't used to be so "conspiracy theory oriented," but somehow the whole thing doesn't add up.


Kansas Bob said...

The years before Marty Schottenheimer left the Chiefs were known (at least by me) as the years of the thugs. Chiefs were getting arrested right and left.

In some sense these guys are a product of a system where athletes in college are idolized and given special treatment. It is sad that many of these young men are not helped in college to deal with the temptations. But maybe they are just a microcosm of a larger problem in our society ... but I don't think that the issue is as simple as profiling ... although this may be a part of the problem.

Ish said...


Even back in June, the discussion about the Bengals was that the organization collected atheletes with character issues". Check out Bengals Zone news archives from back then.

Is Cincy more zealous about stopping minority drivers? Yes. Old news.

Do the Bengals have more athletes with "character issues" in their past than most teams? Yes, this year they did, and they accepted that.

Is it right? No.

I think we do need to keep on the police to make them accountable, but we cannot exhonerate the athelete, as Brian says, for failing to follow the Law. If either side cleaned up its act, the issue wouldn't exist. If both sides clean up their act, tensions will drop.

Cheryl said...

Hi Julie,

Since I came to your blog rather late last year, I'm hoping that you write about college football during its peak later this year with as much relish as you write about pro ball. (Which, I'm going to admit, I don't give a hoot 'n holler about. :)

That said, I have no idea what's REALLY going on in Cincinnati. Honestly, I'd prefer to see people getting busted for criminal activity rather than the cops letting up on folks, just to be "polically correct."

Of course, consistency and fairness in the application of the laws would be preferable so that ALL people breaking the law—regardless of their race, status, gender, whatever—would be treated equally.

And finally, my round-about point :)... I am from Alabama, and I grew up during the tail end of the most violent part of the civil rights movement. In the town I grew up in—almost midway between Montgomery and Birmingham and lateral to Selma—we watched the news about the marches and such all around us, but in our town, and in my experience, there was no such public protests. Just suddenly, or so it seemed to me, our classroom was integrated!

Now when I moved to Birmingham in my early 20s, it was obvious that its heritage as "Bombingham" was going to be difficult to live down... if ever.

What I discovered is that most of the people I came to know there, who'd always lived in Birmimgham, were a lot like me. They didn't experience the protests first-hand, just saw it in the media. And yet, they lived with the stigma of those days... if you're from Birmingham, or even Alabama, you must be at best, ignorant, and at worst, a racist!

People love to label people, and cities, and states, and apparently, pro football teams. And unfortunately, it's usually only a few bad apples who cause the label to appear, but then it takes years for the label to fade. In the meantime, every flaw, crack, imperfection becomes exaggerated through the magnifying glass of that label's filter.

I'll just about guarantee you, when I mentioned Birmingham (unless you have a personal tie to it), your readers' first reaction was one that associates it with the negative side of the civil rights movement. It's Birmimgham's label now... for better or worse.

And it sounds like "thuggery" might be the Bengal's label as well—deservedly so or not.

(I know that was a long post. I'm just kind of ramblin' today. Sorry. :)

Dave said...

Are all nine of the arrested Bengals black? Do the arrested players hang out at the same clubs or in the same district? Do the local police direct a lot of attention to the kinds of places where drunk drivers are more likely to emerge from?

Pro athletes, like other hi profile celebrities, have to take into account their visibility and understand that it's going to create some hardships as well as some opportunities. They should be responsible for their choices, esp. given the the degree of privilege that they enjoy relative to so many of their fellow citizens.

Rick said...

That's "former Gamecock Jonathan Joseph", so it's getting some play here in Columbia, too.

Kansas Bob said...

From an AP story it looks like the bears have similar problems:

Cook County Judge John Moran granted a defense request Tuesday to allow Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson to leave the state as he awaits trial on gun possession charges so that he can play in the Super Bowl.

... I'm sure that the judge wasn't swayed by Johnson's Super Bowl status ... or maybe this is just another case of profiling of a different kind :)

Dave said...

Maybe Tank should have tried doing the "Super Bowl Shuffle" as he approached the bench? That might've scored him a few points... or a few jabs from the bailiff!

julieunplugged said...

Ish, I know you're right and I agree that character issues coming onto the team are coming back to bite the Bengals in the butt. I actually don't mind that these Bengals got busted at all. I tried to make that clear.

But it did highlight to me the fact that maybe there is some kind of difference between our city and other cities. The Chicago arrest and then the permission to leave the state for the Super Bowl is sure an interesting twist on preferential treatment too! :)


Ish said...


I think the problem is exacerbated in Cincy because of those character issues. I'm a Buc fan, and we've had our problem children, but because the team's front office makes character an issue when drafting/acquiring a player, we've had fewer.

It seems like every few years, one team or another says, "character doesn't matter, performance does." and then suffers through a lot of bad press for off field problems. This time, its the Bengals. Next time, it'll be the Rams (I hope!) (PS - Just kidding about that last part, I wouldn't truly wish these problems on any team.)