The NFL will not be beaten by demons.
Justin Blackmon is a talented wide receiver who is watching his career slip down the drain, unable to control issues in his private life that have negatively impacted his ability to catch footballs for a living.
Demons. Blackmon has demons. That's the term we've been authorized to use in this profession when we watch a player with immense talent waste it by grabbing a bottle, a pipe, a vial or whatever vice one might choose to unravel an otherwise positive trajectory in the sport and, by proxy, in life.
Blackmon's demise should be a cautionary tale for other players in the NFL. His situation should be a warning for those players struggling with their own issues to get help before it's too late—to not let the demons win. But it won't be. It never is.
From the contextual standpoint of the NFL, it matters not whether Blackmon has been suspended for the remainder of the season because he is losing a lifelong battle with a debilitating disease of substance and alcohol abuse, or he's merely another celebrity who thinks the rules don't apply to him.
It matters not if Blackmon is a good man who needs help or is a horrible person who has run out of chances.
What matters, for now, is that he's gone. The NFL is in the reputation business, not the rehabilitation business.
There is no such thing as a cautionary tale, sadly, it seems.
The league had no choice to suspend Blackmon after repeatedly and unabashedly violating the league's rules. His punishment was—as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk understands it—negotiated between the league and Players Association, which is to suggest that perhaps he's getting off easy.
Blackmon, like others before him and certainly others in his wake, will be gone until he's not. Eventually Blackmon will be welcomed back into the NFL family once he gets his act together. He's too talented not to be.
League one, demons zilch.
How many times have we seen that same scoreline? The NFL will never lose because the moment a player's demons become too powerful, he is gone, replaced by a player with less talent and presumably fewer demons.
Presumably. In truth, it's hard to know what personal issues a player may develop when he enters the league. Even when there are flags—giant, bright red flags—when a player comes from college to the professional ranks, talent and potential often overshadow the dark circumstances of one's past.
The NFL received a giant dose of revisionist history this summer with the Aaron Hernandez situation, as his past issues—and demons—became one of the biggest scandals to ever hit the NFL. (The NFL rolled right along through that one with relative ease, mind you.)
Nearly every pundit covering football thought Blackmon was a horrible draft choice by Jacksonville with the fifth pick in the 2012 NFL draft, not because he wasn't an immensely talented receiver, but because his demons had already begun to derail his potential.
Blackmon was losing his battle before he even got into the league, and his inability to balance the manifestation of that potential with his obvious demons was a huge reason why former general manager Gene Smith and his entire regime were fired.
When it comes to off-field issues, the NFL is all about balance. There are 2,000 players in the NFL, and everyone is battling something. The league and its teams are in a never-ending search to find the players who are strong enough on the field to succeed and strong enough in life not to fail.
Blackmon isn't the only player to fail.
Within the calendar year, there have been 17 alcohol- or drug-related arrests in the NFL and another 19 involving weapons charges, assault, disorderly conduct or resisting arrest. Demons come in all shapes and sizes, it seems.
Most notably, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith has put himself through a terrible year, spending more time battling his demons than opposing blockers. Smith was arrested earlier this season for driving under the influence, spent five weeks in a treatment facility and recently turned himself in to authorities on weapons charges that stem from an incident in 2012.
Smith was reinstated to the 49ers a day after being released on $75,000 bail. He has multiple court hearings for his multiple offenses in November. He has a job because he still has value. He still has talent the 49ers can use, demons and all.
Even Blackmon will surely get another chance when he overcomes his problems. From the Jaguars' official statement by GM David Caldwell:
His suspension will provide him the opportunity to receive the attention and professional treatment necessary to overcome his challenges, and we will support him during this time. The Jacksonville Jaguars will evaluate Justin's status once he has successfully met the criteria to be considered for reinstatement to the league.
Get better, then come on back.
As long as Blackmon is able to catch passes or Smith is able to make tackles or any of the dozens of athletes arrested and/or suspended over the last few years are able to come back and do their respective football jobs, they will still have that job—or a job somewhere—waiting for them.
The NFL is a league of second chances for those who need another chance and have the talent to warrant that risk.
Michael Vick would have been out of the league after his stint in federal prison if he wasn't talented enough for a team to take another chance on him. Countless players come back from scrapes with the law and issues with substance abuse when their talent warrants another opportunity.
And yet, players need to be smart enough to take advantage of the first opportunity and not put themselves in situations that necessitate a second chance.
The players in the NFL—yes, even a rookie earning the league minimum—make enough money to have a friend, family member, agent or cab company on speed dial to call when they get in trouble.
Every one of us in society need to understand the consequences of our actions when it comes to battling demons. We need to surround ourselves with people who care, who can spot when the demons start to creep in and take over.
People need to see what's happened to Blackmon and realize it can happen to any of us.
The fifth overall pick in the NFL draft and one of the most talented players at his position is washing his career away because of alcohol and drugs. Because of his demons.
It is the ultimate cautionary tale, and for some it may be a sign to look at the path their own lives are taking.
For others, it's an opportunity.
Blackmon or Smith or Hernandez being gone gives the next player in line a chance to shine—a chance to become a star himself, life lessons notwithstanding.
NFL players are taught to go into the game with a sense of fearlessness and invincibility. Too many of them seem to go through life that way too.
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