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Bills Players Stay Smart

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C.J. Spiller of the Buffalo Bills is tackled during NFL game action by Matt Elam of the Baltimore Ravens at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sept. 29, 2013 in Orchard Park, N.Y. Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images.
C.J. Spiller of the Buffalo Bills is tackled during NFL game action by Matt Elam of the Baltimore Ravens at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sept. 29, 2013 in Orchard Park, N.Y. Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images.

Football players live in a strange world, where grown men hope their colleagues will be "smart" while away on bye weeks. That world needs to change for the better.

Buffalo Bills running back C. J. Spiller gave a little public advice to his fellow players as they left Orchard Park, NY for a bye week before Thanksgiving.

“The biggest thing is, when you have this break, is guys just have to be smart. We don’t want guys popping up in the media for anything negative,” Spiller said. “I’m pretty sure we have a great group of guys that are going to be smart on this break.”

Smart? Spiller doesn’t want the Bills to win spelling bees. He wants his colleagues to stay out of jail.

When a media office shuts down for a week’s break, no memos circulate about being “smart” – being “smart” is assumed. Employees are expected to return to work without a taking circuitous route through a circuit court. The expectation of “smart” behavior is considered normal, as it is in most industries.

Not so in the NFL. According to a USA Today report, nearly 700 NFL players have been arrested since the year 2000. Maybe that number isn’t so high, considering the legions of draftees, free agents, and alumni in the league over the last 13 years. The number is high enough, however, to make Spiller cautious before a bye week.

Spiller spoke from the heart, and probably from the head, too. Keeping your teammates out of jail and on the field is a good goal, both emotionally and professionally. No one wants a colleague to land in jail. No one wants a productive member of a professional team – a member with responsibilities to the group – to leave unexpectedly. And, no one wants bad publicity.

In October, Buffalo Bills linebacker Nigel Bradham faced a New York judge for possession of marijuana found after he was pulled over in an August traffic stop for windows tinted too dark. The judge dismissed all charges as long as Bradham’s record stayed clean for six months.

A young man got a second chance. No one made claims of police profiling, and the publicity machine was rather mild.

Bradham is a classic example of the need for professional, collegial warnings in the NFL. Being smart can be as simple as buying a road-worthy vehicle, driving safely, and avoiding illegal substances.

Why does this simple approach need to be spelled out to grown men? Because some NFL players make waves higher than Bradham – murders, gun violence, and drug use dominate headlines and threaten the league’s credibility. In a large society, those events are relatively rare. In the NFL, they should also be rare. The “norm” needs to change, so players won’t need warnings to stay “smart.”