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Tampa Bay Bucs should suspend Aqib Talib

Coach Raheem Morris was “hot” about the arrest, GM Mark Dominik says.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Coach Raheem Morris was “hot” about the arrest, GM Mark Dominik says.

TAMPA — Okay, so Aqib Talib is a brat. And I'm guessing the only people who would disagree are the ones who would say he is worse.

He broke rules — and minor laws — in college. He was lackadaisical in his first few months of work. He got in a fight with a teammate during practice and foolishly hurt another while swinging his helmet in anger. That's a brat working toward graduation to twit.

So it was hardly stunning news when word came down that Talib had been accused of two misdemeanors after an altercation with a cab driver late Wednesday. Sadly, it seems to be part of his personality to defy authority and behave as if rules do not apply to him.

To me, the more interesting aspect of this case will be the fallout. The cornerback gets arrested, and now the head coach is under suspicion. For that matter, the general manager is, too.

It's not what Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik have done but rather what they are going to do. This is the first real challenge to their authority as the new bosses at One Buc Place, and their response could be an indication of how this franchise will be run.

Do not be misled by the quickie news briefings Thursday. Dominik and Morris appeared to dodge the issue of discipline by throwing the matter into the hands of commissioner Roger Goodell. That's just procedural. The commissioner's office is interested because of Talib's past indiscretions, and the Bucs need to tread carefully around the league and the players association.

As the days go on, I still think Morris and Dominik will have their say. And my guess is Talib will be suspended for the season opener against Dallas. Anything less would be a disappointment.

This is not a frivolous decision. It could impact Talib's future. It could impact the locker room. And it could impact the way a community looks at its football team.

No one knows that as well as Dominik. He has been here long enough to appreciate how the bay area fell in love with this franchise in the late 1990s. And he understands he rose to his current position because the last coach and GM had lost a lot of public support.

That's one reason the Bucs have worked so hard to be fan-friendly during training camp. But Dominik does not want the all-smiles atmosphere around One Buc Place to be misinterpreted as the coach and GM being softies.

"Just because we're working hard to give back to the community and we seem nice on the outside, it doesn't mean that it doesn't burn you on the inside when things like this happen," Dominik said. "This kind of tarnishes all the things we have done in the community, and that's very frustrating for me right now."

Talib may have gotten that point when he tried to explain himself to Dominik on Thursday afternoon.

"I talked to him for about 30 seconds. And I told him to get out of my office because I didn't want to talk to him right now," Dominik said. "He came up to see me, which was good, but I told him I just wasn't prepared to talk to him yet."

The message was similar when Talib showed up for practice. After the players went through their stretches, Morris called the group together in the middle of the field to address the issue.

"Raheem was hot. He was ready to get some stuff off his mind. And it was good; it was very good," Dominik said. "The thing you hate is, you call the group in, and you say these things about how we have to be, and this is who we're going to be, and you feel guilty because you're having to say that to Ronde Barber and Chris Hovan. Those guys are like, 'No kidding. I take care of my business.' ''

Saying the right thing is important, but doing the right thing is critical. And that's why Talib has to sit for at least one regular-season game. He was fined often last year by Jon Gruden, and it didn't seem to matter. He was fined heavily by the current staff this summer for the practice field fight, and that, too, seemed to have little impact.

It's time to take the punishment to another level. To a level that might finally register with Talib.

Granted, it's not quite as easy as the Giants suspending Plaxico Burress last season. A gunshot wound is hard to explain away. And it's not as easy as the Panthers suspending Steve Smith for breaking a teammate's nose in practice last year. There were dozens of witnesses to that.

This case is a little cloudier. The cab driver's story seems somewhat incomplete. It's hard to imagine anyone — even someone with Talib's history — punching a driver for no apparent reason. That doesn't mean Talib was justified; it just suggests there is more to the story.

It wouldn't shock me if the case was resolved — at least the battery misdemeanor — with some sort of settlement between Talib and the driver. And maybe that will get him off the hook with the commissioner's office.

But that cannot be the end of the story for the Bucs. Even if the players association fights a suspension, the Bucs have to take a stand. Because at the very least, Talib is guilty of poor judgment. And it's not the first time. Or the second. Or the third. So Morris and Dominik at least have to make a noticeable effort to ensure this will be the last time.

They need to do it for Talib's own good. They need to do it for the team's own good.

They need to do it for their own good.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com

Tampa Bay Bucs should suspend Aqib Talib 08/20/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 21, 2009 9:06am]

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