Pruning out bad behavior   

Updated: October 17, 2008, 3:03 PM ET

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It was an early fall day, and once again Lloyd Carr found himself standing in front of a few hundred young men. The former University of Michigan football coach wasn't going through his paces in preparation for a comeback. No, judging by his tan and the relaxed smile on his face, the only thing he's seriously returning to is a golf course. But he was there to talk football with area high school players at the Champions of Character conference at Cornerstone University, a small Christian college two hours west of Ann Arbor.

Champions' goal is to stress the importance of ethics to young athletes so when they go off to college, and maybe even the pros, they won't be tempted to do bad things. Carr, who was always credited with running a program high on morals, encouraged the young players not to allow the entrapments that can come with being a good athlete sway them from being good men.

"Football doesn't build character," he said. "It reveals it."

No truer words have been spoken, particularly on the pro level, where once again Chiefs running back Larry Johnson and Cowboys cornerback Adam Jones find themselves in trouble for doing stuff they have already been in trouble for. My fingernails are worn down to the cuticles from scratching my head so much. How many times can a spouse cheat before you realize they're not sorry they cheated but, rather, sorry they got caught?

I'm not saying people can't change, but based upon his history, if Pacman doesn't do something more serious while still in the NFL, what exactly do we believe is going to happen once he's away from the only semblance of structure in his life? If he can't keep his nose clean for an entire NFL season after barely getting reinstated, clearly he is incapable of dot connecting. Jerry Jones didn't give him another chance because he knows Jones had a rough childhood and needs support. There are a lot of lifelong criminals who had it rough. What separates Adam Jones is that he can play football. But once Jerry Jones decides he can't play anymore -- or the NFL won't allow him to -- what will become of the artist formerly known as Pacman? Will it be at that moment he decides to be a productive citizen? Doubtful.

Same for Johnson, who keeps finding himself in situations where women say he has either pushed them or threatened them with a gun. True, groupies target and they trap and they lie. This is not news. But either LJ's the dumbest athlete in Kansas City, or there's some fire to go along with the smoke.

I'm all for the benefit of the doubt, and I've been blessed with a few second chances in life. Still, I wonder if there is a mathematical formula to determine how many chances a person can get to screw up before it is determined that they didn't make a mistake but, rather, this is who they are.

A number of black people were up in arms after a recent Yahoo-AP poll on race revealed a large percentage of white Americans associate words such as "violent" and "boastful" when describing blacks. I'm thinking, "That ain't news, of course they do." And a lot of blacks describe blacks that way as well. When the average person still struggles to name five famous black people who are not athletes or entertainers, what do you expect?

In a non-presidential-election year, the headlines are usually owned by selfish, misguided hip-hop artists and athletes. Sometimes criticism across color lines is not based on race. Sometimes we all have to accept the unfortunate truth that you can't defend everyone, and that everyone can't be saved. There are bad people in the world and, to paraphrase Carr, your character is not revealed by the number of carries in a game but how you carry yourself afterwards.

I was walking the streets in Denver one afternoon during the Democratic National Convention and a group of young black men was being disruptive in the streets, saying they were real gangstas and disparaging Sen. Obama and dropping F-bombs. I won't share my first thought, but my second was "I can accept them being ignorant, but I wish they'd keep that ignorance to themselves." Healthy plants must be pruned in order to remain so, and the same is true for society. At some point we have to bring out the shears and get to work so that the branches that follow have a better chance to survive.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Page 2. He can be reached at l_granderson@yahoo.com.


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