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Another day, another athlete gettin’ inna shit. By now you may or may not have heard about Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart partying over the weekend with some girls from Arizona State. Allegedly the partying started at a club in Scottsdale and ended up in Leinart’s backyard hot tub with booze, beer bongs and pictures. And Nick Lachey.

As you might expect, this info comes about from cell phone pictures and MySpace accounts from some of the girls who were there, some of whom are underage. Check it: the pics (sidenote: the site that first posted the pics is one of those college-y, gossip whore places that seems to want to be the TMZ of average peeps, in other words it’s the bitch who doesn’t know you but talks mad shit about you behind your back).

Alright, so a backyard party in the hot tub. As far as we know that’s it, no drugs, no sexual assault, (no Chmura) no DUI, no discharging of firearms, no homicide. Matt’s bosses have since made statements expressing their disappointment in his behavior as well as their belief in his, “commitment to this football team or his ability to lead it.”

 

So what’s the problem? Why does anyone give a shit what Matt Leinart did last weekend if he didn’t break the law (or get caught breaking the law)? You might think that Leinart’s position as the Cardinals’ starting QB for 2008 is all the reason one would need to find fault with his behavior. After all, this guy is a professional athlete, one who won the Heismann in 2004 as a junior, beating out Adrian Peterson (and yes, as a Packer fan it hurts me every time I have to acknowledge that the VikQueens have him) and then put up 5 TDs against Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl for a 55-19 win. He was taken 10th overall (still a first round pick though) in the 2006 NFL Draft by Arizona, and started the 2007 season against the 49ers as the Cardinal’s starting QB.

 

But for all the leadership responsibility that has been given to him, Matt Leinart is still a 24yr old guy who just may not want to live his life according to the ambiguous and muddled ‘standards’ of a 21st century role model. And maybe he shouldn’t have to. Whose place is it to define morality for another individual anyway? Society as a whole struggles every second of every day with morality, and yet we want to impose some strict but still very abstract set of rules, or code of conduct on those who choose to play professional sports for a living. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying pro athletes should be excused from breaking the law or allowed to get away with something an average person would not, but I just don’t see the sense in imposing some rigorous doctrine of ethics on someone just because they happen to be exceptionally gifted when it comes to sports. If these ‘morals’ or ‘codes’ or ‘beliefs’ or whatever are SO important to society then why doesn’t everyone live by them? Why aren’t you or I or Dick Cheney called into our bosses’ office on Monday and reprimanded for beer bongin’ with Nick Lachey over the weekend? And don’t give me that, “Because little kiddies are looking up to him” bullshit because that just doesn’t hold water with me. If my mini-me’s are looking to the National Felon’s League or any other governing sports body for their heroes and inspiration, then I got bigger problems to deal with.

I mulled over this same situation when Ricky Williams was essentially vilified, humiliated and ridiculed for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy by testing positive for marijuana – which he admitted to using for medicinal purposes. Of course he didn’t have a medical marijuana prescription at the time and he failed several of the league’s drug tests, resulting in his suspension for several games in 2004, but to watch a guy who came into the league so well-framed in favorable light fall so far through a series of suspensions, retirements, fines and stigmatization is truly disheartening. I mean, the Saints traded ALL of their draft picks for Williams and yeah, he definitely shit the bed with that whole Master P-crafted contract, but Ricky wasn’t the first guy to sign a bad deal and he won’t be the last. The thing with Ricky was, he just wasn’t the typical meatstick pro-jock foosball player and that automatically set him up as an anomaly and ultimately a made-for-TV target. Despite his collegiate achievements, despite his performance on the field, the things that were seized upon and magnified to ridiculous proportions were his struggles with social anxiety disorder and depression. All of a sudden Ricky Williams was not a guy who was good enough to be drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies (amateur) or play ball at UT-Austin, he was just this weirdo kook that smoked pot and liked yoga. Oooooh, he’s a vegan, and what’s this?! He’s not even denying his pot usage?? Gah! Well, OBVIOUSLY he’s not serious about continuing his pro career, off with his head!!

Ricky has (in my opinion) jumped through a lot of hoops in the last couple of years in an attempt to return to playing pro football, something he clearly loves to do and he was born with abilities most of us only dream of. I don’t know how his personal life or mental health status will fare in the coming years; he briefly fronted as a spokesperson for Paxil which he tried as a treatment, but he later ditched it due to the side effects, even telling ESPN in an interview that, “Marijuana is 10 times better for me than Paxil.” (hello, irony). But I feel as though his reputation as an athlete and more importantly as a person has been heavily damaged and for what? What did he do that was so fucking horrible??

My point is this, along with his noteworthy collegiate record and freshman forays into pro football, Matt Leinart also has a dicey public image. He’s a single father to an infant child having already gone through ugly child support and custody battles with his baby mamma which were covered by TMZ for some reason, then during his first season of his first job he’s taken out by an injury and gets to watch Kurt ‘Can’t Keep Me Down’ Warner wrap up the season for him. Plus he apparently likes to pull a little strange with Nick Lachey, which really wouldn’t be all that bad except you remember this and then you go, “Oh.” Yes, Nick, we see you skulking around behind Herpy Hilton there. All of which has nothing to do with his physical performance on the field. (I realize there can be negative performance effects from ‘off field antics’ but until he misses work ‘cuz of a coke and cooze bender it’s not relevant here).

Matt Leinart is young. He is unmarried and we’ll assume he provides proper care for his son when he has visitation. Should he be expected to avoid bars, nightclubs and celeb trendy restaurants by staying home every night? If he stays in, should he be forbidden from having any guests at his home when alcohol is served or bathing suits are present? Because he is paid a large sum of money to perform at a high level of physical fitness and skill should he be held to a higher standard of personal conduct than the rest of us?

If you were Matt Leinart, wouldn’t you want to know exactly what that’s supposed to mean?

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