During a foolish and honest radio interview, Allen Pinkett, the former Notre Dame All-American, unwittingly exposed the cancer bubbling just beneath the surface of America’s national pastime.
“I’ve always felt like, to have a successful team, you’ve got to have a few bad citizens on the team,” Pinkett told WSCR-AM 670. “That’s how Ohio State used to win all the time. They would have two or three guys that were criminals and that just adds to the chemistry of the team. So I think Notre Dame is growing because maybe they have some guys that are doing something worthy of suspension, which creates edge on the football team.”
Pinkett, as of this writing, is a color commentator for Notre Dame’s radio broadcast. How much longer his employment at Notre Dame lasts is up for debate. He’s been pulled off ND’s season-opening game in Ireland. He’s likely flying back to the states as you read this. He’s an ND football insider with access to coach Brian Kelly. The school’s athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, quickly released a statement rebutting Pinkett’s radio comments. Too late. You can’t walk back Pinkett’s words. A touch of criminality is what is needed to restore Notre Dame to its former glory, and a recent spat of arrests and suspensions are a sign ND is headed the proper direction.
“Oh, I absolutely meant that,” Pinkett responded when the WCSR hosts gave him a chance to clarify his statement. “Chemistry is so important on a football team. And you have to have a couple of bad guys who sort of teeter on the edge to add to the flavor of the guys that are going to always do right. … You look at the teams that have won in the past and they’ve always had a couple of criminals. …
“I don’t want any mass murderers or rapists. I want guys that maybe get caught drinking that are underage, or guys that maybe got arrested because they got in a fight at a bar, or guys that are willing to cuss in public and don’t mind the repercussions of it. That’s the type of criminal I’m talking about.”
Now, we can focus on Pinkett and the stupidity that led him to air these beliefs publicly. Or we can deal with what his words signify. I choose the latter.
Pinkett is wrong. Good football teams don’t need criminals. Good football teams need young men who are desperate and see football as their only option for success. And those are just the type of young men who are prone to get into trouble with the law.
If football is your salvation — not your parents, education or religion — then you’re more likely to be a great player on the field and an idiot off it. If football is your salvation, you’re more likely to ingest painkillers and PEDs to stay on the field, you’re more likely to lie about a concussion you suffered, you’re more likely to accept the military-style verbal abuse spewed by an insecure bully coach.
Football coaches don’t want criminals. They want desperate and option-less young men willing to sacrifice their bodies and their minds for the promise of a payday.
I’m sure Brian Kelly will be quick to distance himself from Pinkett’s commentary. But I don’t have any doubt that Pinkett’s comments reflect a mindset that is pervasive throughout Notre Dame football — and I’m not saying that to in any way single out the Irish. All football coaches at the collegiate and professional level — particularly the successful ones — try to stack their rosters with just the right number of option-less and desperate players.
Why do you think the Dallas Cowboys won’t let Dez Bryant go? Why do you think Dez Bryant volunteered to be treated like a paroled criminal by his football employer?
Jerry Jones wants that “edge” Pinkett was talking about on radio. The edge is the ridiculous skill and fearlessness Bryant brings to the field because his life has been dedicated to the development of his body and his chaotic, dysfunctional upbringing has made a violent, controlled football field seem like a sanctuary.
In March, I wrote a column about NFL bounties and a Northern Illinois linebacker charged with felony assault for running over a band member. In the column, I explained the kind of dark, angry emotions football players tap into in preparation for combat. I further stated that kids from tough backgrounds often make the best football players.
Allen Pinkett chose the wrong words, but his sentiment is accurate. Football is played best by the hopeless, clueless and directionless. Jerry Jones isn’t the first — and definitely won’t be the last — NFL owner or college coach to construct a bunch of freedom-infringing rules aimed at controlling a young man who was neglected in his youth. Jones and Kelly seek the same edge.