Who Gets Tanked Now?

On June 22 Terry “Tank” Johnson, formerly of the Chicago Bears, was arrested at 3:30 a.m. in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert for suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI). He was initially pulled over for allegedly driving 40 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour zone. Gilbert police spokesman, Sgt. Andrew Duncan, said Johnson was arrested for “DUI Impaired to the Slightest Degree” but was released without being booked or charged.

Two days later Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the Bears were going to wait for the results of the blood-alcohol tests before making an announcement as to Johnson’s fate. The following day Sports Illustrated and Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander had this to say about Johnson:

If Johnson — who was under house arrest for part of last season and served two months in jail this spring — had so much as a clue about ”change,” he wouldn’t even have been awake at 3:30 in the morning, let alone driving.

Let alone speeding.

Let alone being under the influence. (His alcohol/drug level from a blood sample won’t be known for up to two weeks.)

But what we find with all these ”changed” athletes — hello, Pacman Jones, Michael Vick, even antique Denny McLain — is that walking the walk is a lot rougher than chatting the chat.

One day later, well before the results of the blood-alcohol test were known, Tank Johnson was no longer a member of the Chicago Bears organization. Bears general manager Jerry Angelo held a press conference and announced that Johnson was being waived by the Bears:

“We are upset and embarrassed by Tank’s actions last week,” general manager Jerry Angelo said in a team release Monday. “He compromised the credibility of our organization. We made it clear to him that he had no room for error. Our goal was to help someone through a difficult period in his life, but the effort needs to come from both sides. It didn’t, and we have decided to move on.”

In the aftermath of Johnson’s release, the sports media attacked Johnson like 3″ long Japanese hornets do docile European honey bees. Gene Wojceichowski’s June 27 ESPN column represented the press’ general sentiment toward the deposed defensive lineman:

Yawn. The Chicago Bears waived the galactically stupid Terry “Tank” Johnson after — what was it this time? — he got pulled over at 3:30 a.m. for speeding and suspected driving while impaired. This isn’t news, it’s habit.

Johnson owns guns, lots of them, but he apparently doesn’t own a watch or the name of a limo company that can drive him home when he’s out until two hours before dawn….

I’m not cynical enough to question the Bears’ sincerity when it came to their efforts to help Johnson. GM Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith knew they’d look like idiots if Johnson brain cramped again, but they took the plunge anyway. Now, their credibility needs mouth-to-mouth.

The Bears should have waived Johnson in December, when police discovered more than 500 rounds of ammo and six unregistered rifles and handguns — in full view of his children — at his suburban Chicago house. And if not then, they should have waived him when he went clubbing with one of his best friends, only to see the friend get shot and killed that night. This was immediately after the Bears warned Johnson to clean up his act….

Now then, if Johnson is charged with the DUI, his lawyer likely will release another polished statement, supposedly in the player’s words, in which Tank declares his innocence, announces a spiritual rebirth, and says the recent events have taught him a valuable and life-changing lesson. There might even be a few strategically timed tears at the first court appearance. You know, just for the cameras or sketch artists.

And if he’s cleared of the charges, Johnson undoubtedly will declare his desire to move forward and return to the football field — just as soon as he completes his eight-game, NFL-imposed suspension for the other dumb-ass things he has done in the past 24 months. He’ll apologize — again — and promise never to make the same mistake.

Until the next time.

This week Johnson’s test results were made public. His blood alcohol level was .072, below the legal limit (.08%, or one 12-ounce domestic U.S. beer, is the presumptive limit). Under Arizona law, it is possible that Johnson could still be charged with DUI, but it would be unusual to do so.
Angelo and the rest of the Bears brass, quick to dismiss Johnson, had no comment yesterday; they are surely scrambling to spin their mistake and kow-towing to commissioner Roger Goodell’s draconian measures for “player misconduct.” The Bears now look like a field slave too-eager to be the first to please his master in the hopes of gaining entry to the master’s home.
Jerry Angelo and his staff will seek out Bear organization-friendly and NFL-friendly members of the sports media to insure that their message is heard. They may play the “past action” card which acts to blame Johnson for their error. They may blame the weather for their error – something like, ‘given the “climate” in the NFL, they felt that waiving Johnson was the proper act.’ The may blame the police: ‘given the information at hand from the “authorities” in Gilbert, Arizona, we felt that we were well within our bounds to act as we did.’

After a non-apology, Angelo will probably provide Johnson with a backhanded apology, something like: ‘we are happy for Tank that the results turned out in his favor. We wish Tank well with his future endeavors. We also hope he uses this experience to gain control of his life so that he might continue his NFL career.’

Some of the media, mainstream and otherwise, will use the, “nothing good ever happens after midnight,” excuse to continue to vilify Johnson, as did Marshall Faulk last evening on the NFL Network. Some will attempt to have it both ways and play the “sensible moderate card,” and blame both Johnson and the Bears. Others will see the Bears act as a gross over-reaction; a failed attempt to bojangle for Goodell.

What all will omit is the fact that Johnson left his stepbrother’s house and was driving to his mother’s house at the time he was pulled over by the police. They will omit that the policeman used “watery eyes” as an excuse to say Johnson appeared intoxicated. Johnson apparently explained to the policeman that he was simply tired, but obviously to no avail. Somehow, these writers who pride themselves on being in the locker room and feeling the pulse of the teams they cover, the writers who pontificate from on high, and the writers who pride themselves on their investigative abilities will fail to ask the Gilbert police how “watery eyes” become probable cause for an arrest.

What is emphasized instead is, “Tank Johnson’s Troubled Timeline.”

Hopefully other teams will use the Bears’ faux pas to their benefit and wait for the test results before condemning one of their players. A mistake like Angelo’s can cause the ruination of a player’s chance to further perform in a profession where the average career is already too short.

The lesson to NFL teams is, think before you jump–unless, of course, your image is more important than waiting for the truth.

D. K. WILSON writes for the dynamic sports site The Starting Five. He can be reached at: mesoanarchy@gmail.com