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Allen Pinkett’s take doesn’t differ much from some coaches’ attitudes

Allen Pinkett created an uproar but there was some truth whhe said. | Michael Gard~For Sun-Times Media

Allen Pinkett created an uproar, but there was some truth in what he said. | Michael Gard~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 3, 2012 6:17AM

When it comes to football, we Americans are in a state of delusion characterized by blinding, whiteout conditions. We love the game so much, we won’t allow ourselves to see the truth.

We hear the talk about the damaging effects of concussions, yet we don’t think our kids will get hurt and, deep down, don’t care if the players we watch on TV do. If a guy gets his bell rung, well, next man up, right? And pass the chips.

More delusion surfaced last week when Notre Dame radio analyst and former Irish running back Allen Pinkett said the school’s football team needed to add some “criminals” and “bad guys.’’

There was an immediate uproar. Criminals? Bad guys? What’s he talking about?

Nothing, other than large helpings of the truth.

Let’s take what Pinkett said at its most literal — that to be successful, a college football team needs to have a criminal element to it. Instinctively, you say that’s not true. But the evidence suggests — screams — that many college coaches agree with Pinkett. It’s either that, or many coaches are in the business of saving young lives and offering chance after chance. I think we all know that to be a lie.

“I don’t want any mass murders or rapists,” Pinkett, clearly a man of principle, stumbled and bumbled on the Score last week. “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. That’s the type of criminal I’m talking about.’’

Last week, Purdue kicked linebacker Dwayne Beckford off the team after his fourth arrest in the last 14 months, this time for possession of bath salts, a narcotic. It illustrated not only Beckford’s attachment to trouble but the Boilermakers’ apparent saint-like patience. Then again, it’s easier to be patient with someone who had 91 tackles and three sacks the previous season.

On Friday, media members hailed Michigan coach Brady Hoke as a man of backbone for giving one-game suspensions to a running back who had been charged with driving under the influence and a defensive end who had been charged with second-degree home invasion, a felony. The decision was notable only because so many coaches wouldn’t have made it.

At the pro level, Tank Johnson’s ability to help the Bears’ defensive line trumped all until his off-field troubles became such an embarrassment that the team caved in to public pressure and waived him in 2007.

So let’s not get too offended when Pinkett puts “criminals’’ and “football’’ in the same sentence. Yes, the vast majority of players at the college and pro levels are upstanding citizens, but that doesn’t mean coaches are looking for people with pacifist tendencies. They’re looking for people who would love nothing more than to knock the bodily fluids out of the players wearing enemy (and quite possibly communist) uniforms.

Bears receiver Brandon Marshall has been in and out of trouble throughout his career. He has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which is distinguished by mood and behavior instability. Not to be indelicate, but what if the disorder is what makes him such a good football player? It’s not outlandish to wonder if something similar is going on with other players who have trouble separating the mayhem of the football field from the real world.

The very violence that many of us are attracted to as fans requires men willing to dispense and absorb violence. That doesn’t mean a player has to be on the wrong side of the law to be good at the sport, but it’s not surprising some who do play the game have anger issues off the field.

If you lined up 10 pro football players, how many were bullies growing up? One or two, minimum? I’m guessing some of you can look back on grade school or high school and pick out someone who fits that profile. The good side of football is that it can take anger and channel it positively. The bad side is that builds on darker tendencies.

Do football teams need thugs to be good? No. But when I open up the newspaper every morning, I can expect to read about a player who has gotten into criminal trouble. And, if the player is talented, I can expect to find a coach with a long leash. That’s reality.

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