New York Jets starting quarterback Geno Smith will miss as many as 10 games because another Jets player punched him in the face. Think about that for a minute and how stupid that is to happen on a professional football team.
They wouldn’t be the New York Jets if something completely stupid didn’t happen every year. They wouldn’t be the Jets if they didn’t let a promising young quarterback get injured in some freak sideshow-type incident.
Idemefuna Enemkpali is the linebacker who punched Smith and was immediately cut from the team. Not to fear though, ex-Jets head coach Rex Ryan picked him up for his Buffalo Bills.
The New York Times ran a story saying that Enemkpali had transformed himself into a “figure of infamy” for the New York Jets. Taking out the starting quarterback with a sucker punch certainly runs you afoul of the team and its fans, but you have to do better in the N.F.L. if you want to achieve infamy.
The idea that Idemefuna Enemkpali could achieve some kind of “infamy” is ludicrous in a league rife with serial sex offenders, wife beaters and celebrated cheaters. Enemkpali may have “sucker punched” Geno Smith, but he punched an adult male and apologized for it. If serial sex offenders like Ben Roethlisberger can have a career in the N.F.L., sucker punchers shouldn’t have any barriers to a life in professional football.
The New York Jets have employed worse people. The Jets starting quarterback for many years was Mark Sanchez, who raped a woman in college.
So unless Enemkpali ripped off Geno Smith’s arm and then knocked him out with his own fist, a simple punch isn’t going to make you infamous. I guess there is a dry spell of crimes from N.F.L. players lately and the media needs to make the most of ones that it gets.
And, this happened to The Jets, which makes the story of misfortune that much better. Ridiculous misfortune business-as-usual for Gang Green. And being a Jets fan hasn’t been easy for four decades.
I’m a Jets fan, and I must admit that the Jets misfortunes are somewhat of a badge of honor at this point. I have stayed loyal to sports teams through thick and thin even when others became fair weather fans and attached themselves to more popular, winning teams at the time. I remember when the New York Yankees had the worst record in baseball in the early 1990s. Living in Connecticut, many of my friends supported the Boston Red Sox and made fun of me for my team loyalty. I vowed to them that I would see the Yankees as world champions again (vowing to be kept on life support until this happened if need be). I only had to wait six years.
And so it is with the Jets. Most New Yorkers are New York Giants fans because the Giants have won more Super Bowls within recent memory. The Jets last won the Super Bowl in 1969, three years before I was born. That’s OK. I’ll wait a little longer.
This past week, New York City’s Comptroller approved a settlement reportedly totaling $41 million to members of the “Central Park Five.”
The five men were convicted in 1990 of the brutal rape and bludgeoning of a woman jogging in Central Park in April of 1989. No one who was living in New York at the time could ever forget it. The jogger was so badly beaten that a friend had to identify her by a ring she was wearing on her finger. There was no telling how many people took part in the assault. The five who were convicted were part of a mob that numbered in the dozens.
Four of the five had confessed, and videos of their confessions were shows on the news. They renounced their confessions, claiming they were coerced, and went to trial.
Because several of the accused were juveniles, there was no way they would serve enough time in jail. They were somehow acquitted of attempted murder. They were convicted of several crimes committed that night, including the rape and assaults on other people in the park, and were sent to prison.
Years later, a serial rapist named Matias Reyes claimed that he had attacked the jogger that night and had acted alone. DNA evidence showed him to be guilty. The Manhattan District Attorney asked that the convictions of the Central Park Five be vacated as a result.
Here’s the first big problem with the confession of the alleged lone rapist Reyes: his tale of being the only attacker goes against the medical evidence that indicates the Central Park Jogger was attacked by multiple people. Part of this evidence includes bruising on both legs of the victim indicating she was held down by more than one person and cuts from a blade (Reyes said he only hit her with a rock and tree branch).
After the verdicts were vacated, the New York City Police Department published a detailed examination of the case, the Armstrong Report, which details evidence beyond the confessions that indicate that the defendants were involved in the assault. This includes statements some of the defendants made to police outside of the interrogation, things they said to family members, and details of the crime some of them provided that were not known to police at the time (for example, the NYPD did not know what property had been taken from the victim but two of the five separately described her Walkman being stolen).
The five sued the City and were helped along by filmmaker Ken Burns, who declared them “exonerated” despite the significant evidence of their guilt and made the documentary “The Central Park Five.”
The Burns documentary is an interesting examination of the case, but it is very one-sided and contains glaring omissions.
Fans of the Burns film are buying into a narrative that lets them feel righteous indignation at a supposed injustice, but the evidence in the case does not gel with the idea the Central Park Five are victims of injustice at all.
The documentary presents its case without any of the skepticism required. It assumes that self-proclaimed lone rapist Matias Reyes is some kind of born-again angel for confessing to a crime (after the statute of limitations had expired, by the way), even though his story is full of holes.
Part of the reason that there is a belief in the innocence of the Central Park Five is what is known as the “CSI effect.” People believe that there is always going to be a mountain of DNA evidence with every case, though there often isn’t. Keep in mind also that the use of DNA collection and examination was in its early stages in 1989. Yes, DNA evidence proves Matias Reyes raped the Central Park Jogger; the evidence shows he was not alone in doing so.
But the public wants to buy into the popular story. Earnest and well-meaning New Yorkers are smitten with Ken Burns’ films and want to believe that the violent men about to become millionaires deserve it and are getting some measure of justice. They are very wrong.
Some of us in New York have the unfortunate burden of being Jets fans. The New York Jets were a great team sometime more than 40 years ago. Like the Knicks and Mets, they have made it their modus operandi to find new ways to break their fans’ hearts. They have been described as more of a media circus than a football team. It is often remarked that J.E.T.S. means “Just End The Season.”
The news this past weekend that the New York Jets have given up quarterback Mark Sanchez for Michael Vick will be sure to continue the Jets’ reputation for making foolish moves. This is the same team and coaching staff that paid handsomely for Tim Tebow, who became the NFL’s most expensive bench warmer.
The Vick hire has already brought shrieks of horror from animal rights activists, moralistic sports haters and even decent human beings. The Jets made the announcement on a Friday night, when news is likely to get the least amount of attention. Since returning to football, Vick has been the subject of the most invective aimed at a sports figure since O.J. Simpson got away with murder. And Vick didn’t get away with his crimes.
That’s not to say that the continued campaign against Vick is without merit. Michael Vick is every bit as bad as his harshest detractors say. He heartlessly tortured and murdered defenseless animals and his dumbly parroted apologies in the intervening years convince me that he’s only sorry he got caught. If there’s an afterlife, Vick will spend eternity being torturously gnawed at by Rottweilers with AIDS.
But there are a few things that stand out in the endless Vick hatred that the Jets have stirred up again. One is that there are much worse people still playing professional sports today that do not create half the controversy that rightfully follows Vick. The NFL employs rapists and murderers and thugs of every stripe.
One of the rapists that had a home in the NFL until just now was Mark Sanchez, the Jets quarterback that Michael Vick is replacing. It escaped the ire of football moralists that Sanchez was arrested for raping a woman at the University of Southern California while he was a student there, though charges were never brought. There has been no exodus of people from Pittsburgh Steelers fandom on account of their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, being a serial rapist. Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens is a murderer of people and went on to become a Super Bowl MVP.
The second thing to take note is that the era of the celebrity hero is over. It is hard to face the reality that people we admire for their skills or accomplishments can be bad people. The sports world brings this into focus for us many times over, but the same is true for any celebrated line of work. It’s unfortunate that Lord Byron likely knocked up his own sister and that William S. Burroughs shot his wife to death, but that doesn’t make their writing any less influential.
So I won’t stop being a Jets fan. When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way, from your first scoreless half to your last fumbled play. I’m used to rooting for a losing NFL team and over needing to like professional athletes. Being a New York Yankees fan, I have read some of the horror stories of how Joe DiMaggio would treat fans. Was Billy Martin a homophobe or a racist? Who cares? No one hired him to sing “Kumbaya” to crack babies; they hired him to play and coach baseball. Baseball’s current home run record holder, Barry Bonds, is such a despised human being that his own teammates could barely bring themselves to congratulate the slugger on his accomplishments.
We can rightfully revile sports figures all we want, but ultimately they will be judged by what they do on the field of play. The New York Jets long ago gave up trying to recreate the magic of being heroes to anyone. Now they just need to win football games.