Kevin Bowman: Standards for football players on, off the field must match

By now you’ve seen it.

Ray Rice’s left fist swinging at his fiancée. Her head hitting the railing. Rice dragging her unconscious body from the elevator.

In the eyes of the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell, that series of images was worthy of a two-game ban, upgraded to an indefinite suspension only after the video footage created public outcry.

UCLA coach Jim Mora saw it as a chance to teach his players.

“I talk to the team about just about every social issue that comes across the wire,” Mora said Thursday after practice. “There’s great learning opportunities there. And if we can find an opportunity to teach our guys the right way to do something, then we do that.”

Mora’s approach is the right way to handle such situations, but it doesn’t seem like the common one among his colleagues in the NFL. Too often in sports, the emphasis is placed on winning, with everything else pushed aside. Off-field issues and arrests often result in the punitive equivalent of a time-out in the corner as long as players keep performing on the field.

Take the San Francisco 49ers, where Mora served on the coaching staff from 1997 to 2003. Defensive tackle Ray McDonald was arrested on Aug. 31 on suspicion of felony domestic violence. His punishment from the 49ers? A start in the first game of the season.

Jed York, the 49ers’ CEO, has said he will give McDonald his due process before doling out a team punishment, which makes sense. It upholds the “innocent until proven guilty” mantra. And technically, a team can’t suspend a player if he hasn’t been proven guilty, though it can still bench or release him. But that sends the wrong message.

It gives off the idea that the 49ers and the NFL community care more about the three tackles McDonald gave the 49ers in their first game than the fact that he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his fiancée.

That’s not the message Mora wants to send. He made that clear last season.

When offensive tackle Torian White was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault last November, Mora immediately suspended him from the team. There was no waiting for due process. Even though White was never convicted, he was dismissed from the team, Mora announced at the beginning of UCLA’s spring camp in April.

Mora isn’t alone in the college world in taking swift punitive action. UCLA’s Week 3 opponent, Texas, has been mired in its fair share of off-field issues this offseason as new coach Charlie Strong has been demanding higher standards of behavior from his players.

After Texas wide receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander were arrested and charged with felony sexual assault, Strong immediately suspended them and then dismissed them from the program.

Sanders played a key role for Texas last year and figured to be an important member of the offense again this season. Strong, who dismissed five players this offseason from the team and suspended three indefinitely, has taken a stand that the men he coaches need to be just as good off the field as they are on.

Athletes need to be held to higher standards, the same standards that all other “common” people are held to. The quality of the player comes second to the quality of the person.

College coaches are starting to figure it out. Now it’s time for the pros to get on their level.

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