Monday, March 19, 2007

Lately, I've been rising and sleeping under some vague, undefinable feeling of security, as if a cosmic injustice were about to be righted. Then late last week, I learned with the rest of America that the most dangerous threat to the safety and stability of Second City since Al Capone walked the streets of the South Side is soon to enter a correctional facility. Finally, it's safe to walk the streets of America. Terry "Tank" Johnson's going to jail for four months.

I must say, I don't really know why I spend so much of my time in this blog defending people whose actions seem indefensible. Maybe it's a ghost in my machine, or maybe the majority of the people kicking Tank Johnson could do us all a favor and wait to inveigh against him in the full force of righteous indignation. After all, Tank Johnson is going to prison for violating his probation, not having killed some one.

I am not saying that Tank Johnson should not be subject to due process of the law, tried, sentenced and sent to prison for probation violations. For what he has done, it seems like he deserves some jail time. It makes sense that the prison officials are going to keep him out of general population. The amount of attention and trouble he would attract would not be good for any one. And in the long run, depriving him of a chance to work out will be as big a punishment as any.

As a big, athletic defensive tackle Tank Johnson could command a lot of money on the open market, even with a red flag in the character area. For the record, Johnson is signed through the end of the 2008 season, but productivity in the upcoming season is the key to positioning himself for a big contract year. It will be hard to produce at a high level in the NFL with 4 months away from the weight room and proper speed and agility training. He better do a hell of a lot of push ups and crunches.

Yes, Tank Johnson has a history of legal trouble. But a few weapons possession charges are disturbing, but not as serious as a history of DUIs. And in one of the incidents, he was arrested after a night club valet informed the authorities that Tank had a handgun concealed in his glove compartment. This, to me is as troubling for the manner in which the crime was discovered as it is in the nature of the crime.

First of all, when did America's night club valets as a body become a sort of posse comitatus empowered to police American society? More importantly, why was the valet looking around under in patron's car? It seems to me that there is an implied trust in handing over your car to a parking attendant that should give you the right to throw a hellacious beating on said parking attendant if they invade your privacy. Those of you who read this space occasionally will know that I abhor violence, but even more than that, I hate people who mind my business and touch my stuff without permission.

Reading Jay Mariotti's diatribe in praise of Tank's incarceration got me more than a little bit upset. I hate Mariotti. He brings nothing more than bitter, small minded barbs to his column and television appearances. Worse than that, as a person who enjoys good writing (whether it's within my grasp is not for me to decide) and tries to be funny and at least occasionally fair and honest, he gets paid good money to write while I (and better men than I am) operate on the fringe of the writing business pro bono.

It's bad enough that Jay accuses Urlacher and Lovie Smith of rallying around Johnson to perpetuate the jockocracy. It is far worse that he uses these inelegant epithets to do it: "he of the mega-popular No. 54 jersey" and "he of the freshly minted contract and stoic manner." Homer wishes he could have come up with epithets like that on the poem-writing-est day of his life. Or he/she/it would have had Homer the person existed, instead of a name given to a multi-generational oral tradition.

And far be it for me to parse his words, since I'm sure as little thought went into their composition, but I think Jay meant the defense asked Lovie Smith to vouch for Tank, not vow for him (since I don't think you can vow for a person, place or thing in the King's English). And Tank isn't rehabilitated yet. The prison term and concomitant counseling are supposed to do that. Or didn't they teach that at Ohio University? But it's a grand job they do in the editing department of the Sun Times, or is Jay God on the throne over there and, as such, untouchable. At least I'm a one man show (not entirely, but my budget only covers a good friend who labels my posts and monitors my traffic patterns pro bono).

Also, it is somewhat irresponsible to commend the prosecution and the judge for their adroit handling of this case without providing examples of how these type of cases are handled when the defendant is just a man off the street with a public defender and not a professional athlete. Since I don't know, and don't have the time (and, to be perfectly frank, the inclination) I can only be so critical of Jay on this point.

What offends me most in this piece of poorly written drivel is this paragraph and the rehashing of a Super Bowl week column I already shredded that follows it:

Maybe Propes wouldn't have felt so wronged had she been standing beside me weeks earlier at Dolphin Stadium. On Media Day at the Super Bowl, Johnson was given a wonderful opportunity to show remorse, apologize and prove himself worthy of a court-arranged release from home confinement to make a business trip in Miami. Surrounded by cameras and reporters, all he had to say were the things he tried to convey Friday in the courtroom, that he never should have had guns in his house and that he has learned from his errors. Instead, Johnson went full-blown attitude on us, blaming his problems on racial stereotypes.

The fundamental dishonesty of that passage sickens me. Any reader even slightly familiar with Mariotti and his modus operandi could tell you, that criticism is a poorly veiled gambit (the chess move where a player entices his opponent into a trap by offering up a piece as sacrificial lamb in hopes of snaring a more powerful piece in return, not the tool from the X Men). This is a neat trick, and one which requires very little effort to churn out as many columns as the writer desires.

Since Tank did not avail himself of the opportunity to apologize at the media circus that is the Super Bowl, he does not show sufficient contrition to merit compassion. However, had Tank apologized, then Jay would have had the perfect opportunity to rail against another celebrity making an insincere, stage-managed apology to hoodwink a naive public into welcoming them back into the fold. Sometimes, I wish I were that kind of writer. I wonder, though, whether the financial remuneration would be adequate compensation for the permanent damage it would do it my soul.

Tank Johnson needs to understand that this is his last chance. The compassion people like me feel for him in the wake of his friend's tragic death will not last much longer if he keeps getting himself arrested. At a certain point, you cease no longer a decent guy in the wrong place at the wrong time and you become a blight on society. I hope Tank takes stock of his life and the chance he has to be a great defensive tackle in the greatest professional sport known to man.

I wish him well, and I think the overwhelming majority of Bears fans do too. For my part, it's not because he can rush the passer and stop the run. I like to see people get their lives together and succeed in spite of past mistakes. And I'd like to believe that most people feel that way too. I hope Tank can do it.

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