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By re-signing TE Stevens, the Bucs lose respect

They needed another tight end, that would seem obvious.

How badly did the Buccaneers need another tight end?

Enough, according to a Seattle Times investigation, to ignore a driver who left the scene of an accident. Not once, but twice. Enough to ignore a driver who was cited for having a blood-alcohol level double the legal limit. Not once, but twice. Enough to ignore a driver caught behind the wheel with a suspended license. Not once, but twice.

Enough to ignore an arrest for felony assault. Enough to ignore a positive marijuana test while under home confinement. Enough to ignore an arrest on suspicion of rape.

Yeah, I guess they really needed a tight end.

In case you weren't paying attention as the weekend was dawning late Friday afternoon — and I suspect the Bucs specifically chose that moment to sneak in under the radar — Tampa Bay announced it had re-signed troubled tight end Jerramy Stevens.

And just like that, a proud franchise surrendered some of its dignity.

Today, the temptation is to shout. To be outraged and disgusted. To rail against those responsible. And yet, I can't quite manage any of those thoughts. Instead, I'm left with an overwhelming sense of sadness.

Sadness at an inadequate legal system. Sadness that an NFL franchise assumes touchdowns excuse just about anything. Sadness for a young woman whose life might never be the same.

So why are these things issues now? Why didn't they matter when Stevens was playing for the Bucs last season?

Mostly because a lot of these incidents had not been highly publicized when he was originally signed, particularly his arrest on suspicion of rape eight years ago.

Based on the evidence reported in the Seattle Times, a young woman might have been raped outside of her University of Washington sorority and then again by prosecutors and school officials. It is important to note that Stevens was never charged, the case not even brought to trial. The prosecutor's office cited insufficient evidence. But I defy anyone to read the Seattle Times article from January and not have a high suspicion that Stevens did something horribly, frighteningly wrong. An out-of-court settlement with the woman suggests that as well.

Stevens and the Bucs acknowledged he had numerous off-the-field "issues" when he arrived in town last year, but it seemed like a few cases of alcohol abuse that were then under control.

In reality, Stevens has repeatedly demonstrated a remarkable lack of interest in rules, laws and the lives of fellow human beings. But because he has a charming personality and an ability to play football at the highest level, Stevens, 28, has skated through the court system and the NFL with virtual impunity.

Understand, I am not naive. I know you don't win Super Bowls with a huddle of choir boys. I admit that if Gandhi were a head coach and went 5-11 in back-to-back seasons, we'd all be shouting for his head.

And I agree that people deserve second chances. A DUI does not necessarily mean you should lose your job. A tussle in a parking lot does not make you an evil person.

Ultimately, every case must be judged within its context. A person who keeps getting in trouble because of an addiction needs our help, not necessarily our scorn. And a person accused of a serious crime deserves a chance to prove it was an aberration, not a pattern.

None of that seems to apply to Stevens.

He has courted trouble as a matter of routine for a very long time and has shown no tangible sense of remorse or responsibility. The Bucs will tell you he has been a perfect citizen during his one year in Tampa Bay, but that doesn't make him a changed man. That means he has finally realized he is running out of opportunities.

The Bucs can act as if their hands are clean because most of these episodes took place thousands of miles and some months away. But by keeping Stevens in the NFL, they are perpetrating the notion that talent is more important than integrity. That winning football games takes precedence over all else.

Someday soon, the Buccaneers will talk about another player's character.

They will point out his many charitable contributions. They might even offer pictures of him at some heartwarming event where they will laud him for being a grand addition to the community.

And it will all feel like a sham.

Because by re-signing Jerramy Stevens, the Bucs look like they don't give a darn about their community.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

By re-signing TE Stevens, the Bucs lose respect 06/02/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 9, 2008 2:14pm]
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