Friday, July 9, 2010

Sports Q&A: Russell: Elixir of the God-Awful

By Jeffrey Boswell

Former Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell was arrested on Monday in Mobile, Alabama, and charged with possession of codeine syrup. Is Russell's attempt at criminal behavior as weak as his attempt at NFL stardom, and does his arrest signify the next step in the downfall of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft?

Let's be careful not to judge Russell too quickly, for it is entirely possible, and likely that, given his relatively clean background and millions of dollars at the ready for legal advice, Russell will make a plea and avoid a criminal charge. If that happens, then it will be official: JaMarcus Russell commits crimes like he plays football — without "conviction."

Russell was nabbed on July 5th at his home in Alabama, arrested for possession of a controlled substance. His arrest resulted from a two-month undercover operation in Mobile, as, once again, Russell fell victim to his inability to recognize "coverage."

Russell was booked and released on $2,500 bond, petty cash when you consider that he was paid over $30 million by the Raiders. And, in what had to be an embarrassing development, a bloated and out-of-shape Russell wasn't even able to be released on his own recognizance.

Russell should be ashamed of his actions. Not because possession of codeine syrup is a serious offense, but because possession of codeine syrup is not a serious offense. Yes, his arrest is disappointing, all right. But not disappointing because he did it, but disappointing because that's all he did.

Codeine possession is a serious offense, you say? Then why did Eric Clapton sing about "Cocaine" and not "Codeine?" Heck, why did Clapton do cocaine and not codeine?

If codeine is such a big deal, then why didn't Nate Newton traffic it?

Codeine is nothing more than glorified cough syrup, and can easily be obtained over-the-counter, assuming your dealer works from behind a counter. Reportedly, codeine acts as a depressant on the central nervous system, often causing impaired thinking and slowed reactions, effects eerily similar to what the Oakland draft gurus were experiencing when they made Russell the number one pick in 2007.

Russell may be the biggest bust in NFL history, but his arrest certainly doesn't amount to the biggest bust for the Mobile Police Department. Now, if this was Mayberry, I'd be impressed. But Mobile has to have bigger problems than a codeine ring. What's the Mobile P.D.'s secret name for this sting operation, "Operation Ahem?"

It would seem that Russell's arrest equates, in Mobile's eyes, to the high-profile takedown most departments aim for in such massive operations designed to take evil drugs, like codeine, off the market. But really, Russell is "high profile" not because of what he's done. It's what he hasn't done that makes him famous. And he's done nothing.

There's no doubt Russell signed a few worthless autographs for Mobile's finest at the station, and the cops probably lauded their efforts in clearing a few ounces of codeine from the streets. Sorry to burst your bubble, City of Mobile, but this arrest barely warrants news coverage.

And Russell's crime hardly deserves attention in its own right, because some NFL stars have done worse, much worse. Until Russell can step up his game and achieve true infamy, his plight lacks relevance.

In this age of gun-packing, dog-fighting, police-slugging NFL players, and the Cincinnati Bengals of yore, football fans have come to expect more from players, and that applies to criminal activity. We like our favorite, and sometimes not-so-favorite, players making that shameful perp walk to commissioner Roger Goodell's interrogation bunker, where a multiple-game suspension awaits.

Not only will Russell not get an invite to training camp this year, he won't even get an invite to Goodell's office. Not for possession of codeine syrup. If Russell is lucky, Goodell may request a doctor's note.

It's this lack of effort that cost Russell his job with the Raiders as well. Sure, Al Davis and company weren't happy with his commitment to the game, but they have to be even unhappier with his commitment to immoral behavior.

In addition, Russell's crime, or lack of it, is an affront to the Raider organization's thuggish reputation, honed by years of questionable behaviors, ranging from Ken Stabler's issues with alcohol to Sebastian Janikowski's reputation as the worst date in the NFL.

Would Stabler even have dabbled in codeine? No, not when a shot, or eight, of whiskey drowns sorrows equally as well, if not better, particularly when followed by a nice, leisurely drive. Could Stabler have pulled off his role in the famous "Holy Roller" play if he wasn't liquored up? No way. It's a given that codeine wouldn't have emboldened him with the liquid courage to do such a thing.

And when a kicker's, of all people, legal issues and perverted actions overshadow those of the quarterback, albeit a former one, something is not right in Raider Nation.

Heck, even Lester Hayes possession of Stickum was more of a "crime" than Russell's, and Stickum is street legal.

In some respects, it's hard to fault Russell for abusing codeine. I'm sure Russell enjoyed introducing himself as a former NFL quarterback, but when doing so, he experienced an overwhelming urge to "clear his throat." Codeine is a cough suppressant, so it apparently allowed Russell to refer to himself as a quarterback with a straight face.

And maybe Russell's commission of such a petty crime is not necessarily a function of stupidity, but lack of stupidity. You have to be immensely stupid to be an NFL player and try to sneak a gun into a nightclub, or an airplane, or to fund a dogfighting operation. Russell is clearly not stupid enough to commit similar offenses, nor is he bold enough. His arrest on codeine possession was a swell first effort, but to truly run with the big dogs, he'll have to do more. In essence, Russell will have to "get stoopid." In his defense, maybe that's what he was trying to do with the codeine all along.

So, where does Russell go from here? Well, he's already gone "down," so, from there, he can only go up. Obviously, his "comeback" has been momentarily derailed by codeine. That's assuming a comeback was in the works. Unless he discovered some new age, codeine-based training regimen, it doesn't appear that a comeback was a part of his immediate plans.

To begin his path on the comeback trail, Russell needs to step up his game, physically, mentally, and criminally. This entails an intense workout regimen, scouring of playbooks, and unwavering attention to the police news. As Michael Vick, Pacman Jones, Plaxico Burress, and others have shown, to truly leave an impression on the NFL, it often helps to leave an impression on the law, namely with your fingerprints.

I say to Russell: lose the codeine, find a more habit-forming drug, punch a bouncer, shoot up a strip club. Prove you have what it takes to be an NFL superstar.

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