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Third chance? Robinson handles his return correctly

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Chris Jenkins
November 1, 2007
— Koren Robinson already had his second chance, and he blew it.

After turning his life into a train wreck over the past few years, the talented but troubled wide receiver now faces his third and presumably final chance to make it in the NFL.


But here’s the thing about Robinson: He isn’t a monster, a thug, or a jerk. If you met him, you’d almost certainly come away liking him—a lot.


Since he first walked into the Green Bay Packers’ locker room last season, before he was banished for a year by the NFL because of his drunk-driving troubles, Robinson has carried himself with a sense of humility that seems genuine.


Now that Robinson’s suspension has been lifted, he seems to recognize that his football future depends entirely on his ability to stay out of trouble. He was suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy in 2004, pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in 2005 and led police on an alcohol-fueled high-speed car chase in Minnesota last year.


So far with the Packers, Robinson is writing the textbook on the right way for an athlete to handle his personal problems in public, making his return more palatable to everyone around him.


“I feel like just being reinstated, getting back with the team, was a cherry on top,” Robinson said last week. “Now, to get out there on the field, definitely would be like, ‘OK, Koren. In a sense, you made it. And you’re finally doing something right. And now you just need to continue.’ And that’s just going to motivate me to continue down the path that I’m on.”


That path includes attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and taking a drug that would make him sick if he drank alcohol again.


But he insists that’s not going to happen.


“I realize that I’m strong enough to cope with anything that comes my way without getting drunk or using alcohol,” Robinson said. “I feel good. Me and alcohol don’t mix. If I drink alcohol, I break out—(and end up in) handcuffs. That’s how it is. So I know it’s not part of my equation, and I’m going to keep it like that.”


Robinson’s path back to the field also includes putting in extra work after practices, as he tries to work himself back into game shape.


“I know where I’m at now and where I need to be, and I’m trying to get there as fast as I possibly can,” Robinson said. “So any down time that I get away from (practice), I’ve got to use it to get back to where everybody else is, to catch up.”


Robinson didn’t play in Monday night’s victory at Denver. But he could play at Kansas City on Sunday if he’s able to show in practice this week that he has shaken off the rust and a sore knee isn’t holding him back.


In a locker room where other players have ducked far less serious matters—former safety Marquand Manuel brushing off questions about losing his starting job comes to mind, as does former running back Ahman Green refusing to talk about, well, just about anything—Robinson has patiently sat at his locker and answered every question about his legal and personal problems.


He has said all the right things without a hint of blaming anybody but himself for his problems, making it easier to give him the benefit of the doubt.


Especially when there have been so many more troubling incidents happening around the league in recent years. While drunk driving is a serious crime, Robinson’s missteps somehow don’t seem as offensive as what has at times seemed like an endless stream of other players’ involvement in domestic violence and sexual assault allegations, or a Michael Vick dogfighting indictment that raised questions of basic human decency.


Still, I can’t help wondering if it’s a mistake for me, or anybody else, to give Robinson more leeway than other troubled athletes just because he seems like a decent guy.


After all, Robinson won a “good guy” award from the media when he was with the Minnesota Vikings. Then he went out and did something stupid in August 2006—drinking and driving again after getting a DUI while with the Seattle Seahawks—that led to something even more stupid, leading police on a high-speed chase.


And with one false move at triple-digit speeds, Robinson could have become Leonard Little. Or Josh Hancock.


Little, a defensive end for the St. Louis Rams, was drunk when he crashed his SUV and killed a woman in 1998. But that was before new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell took office and began cracking down on players’ off-the-field conduct, so Little served an eight-game suspension and is still playing for the Rams today.


Hancock isn’t playing today. He’s the St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher who drank too much at a bar and died in a car crash in May.


Forget football. Robinson is lucky that he didn’t kill himself or somebody else.


But if I’m cutting Robinson a break he hasn’t necessarily earned, I’m not the only one.


Packers general manager Ted Thompson didn’t take much of a financial risk when he signed Robinson to a two-year deal. But Thompson certainly is risking the reputation of a franchise that has become fiercely protective of its image since weathering too many off the field incidents in previous decades.


Robinson also won the support of Brett Favre, who has acknowledged his own history of substance abuse. In a public plea to league officials on behalf of Robinson a few weeks ago, Favre said Robinson’s comeback could help the league move past the negative publicity from other players’ legal problems.


“I think he’s done everything he’s been asked to do, and it’s time to set a good example—that you can resurrect not only your career, but your life,” Favre said. “I mean, there’s still a lot left for him to do on and off the field, but give the guy an opportunity.”



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