Wednesday, July 07, 2010

JaGrimmace Russell strikes again

Here's Monty Poole's take:

Identified and selected to lead the rescue of the deteriorating Raiders, JaMarcus Russell came to Oakland as the designated franchise quarterback, a $40 million investment and, conceivably, a drug user.

Yet Russell, above all, is a human being.

Maybe the human aspect got lost in the football, obscured by the fumbles and interceptions and losses and finger-pointing and owner-vs.-coach beefs.

Russell's demons were with him all along. If they weren't rattling about his head when he reached Oakland, they stalked him from the instant he joined the Raiders family.

If he lacked the courage to admit those demons, or the desire and will to confront them, shame on JaMarcus.

Shame on the Raiders, though, if they served in the role of enablers — or knew of his potentially fatal struggle and were ill-equipped to provide assistance.

Triple shame on the organization if it was unaware of the demons that plagued him.

Within months of his arrival in the autumn of 2007 — a celebrated rookie from LSU — Russell's dirty business was a constant source of chatter on the streets of the Bay Area. The No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft and easily recognized by sports fans and young people of all stripes, Russell couldn't hide. Not that he tried.

Russell was arrested Monday on charges of possession of a controlled substance — codeine syrup. He was nabbed as part of an undercover investigation by the Mobile Police Dep't.

Roughly 21 years after the Warriors paid a steep price for drafting the troubled but prodigiously gifted Chris Washburn, Raiders boss Al Davis put his franchise in the hands of someone, at the very least, predisposed to substance abuse.

In 1986, when the Warriors drafted Washburn, there was limited knowledge about drug abuse and its effect on athletes. In the two decades since, there has been immense progress in terms of education, detection and treatment. Society has evolved to such a degree there are 100 reasons why the drug-related NFL and NBA draft mistakes of the 1980s should not occur in the 21st century.

Yet there it is, apparently right under the nose of the Raiders.

Were they so blinded by Russell's magnificent arm that they saw no need for the thorough and comprehensive background examination that could have afforded a more informed draft-day decision?

The Raiders drafted Russell because they believed in his talent, his character, his leadership and, yes, his work ethic. I'll assume they bought into all of this, because it's utterly preposterous to invest such a kingly sum in someone who raised enough red flags to color the sky.

And it's not as if JaMarcus changed. The sluggish attitude and personality he displayed in 2009 was no different than that seen in 2007. The issues he has now are the issues he had then.

Whether he was rolling through the 'hood in his luxury car or out "clubbing" with his boys, JaMarcus was a naive dude from Alabama with not an ounce of malice in his heart. Perhaps feeling he needed protection, he harbored questionable companions who longed to be near an NFL player and his wallet. The image of JaMarcus was that of a walking, sipping ATM, destroying his career and derailing the organization funding his opulent lifestyle.

Meanwhile, his former teammates would whisper and wonder and wait for the day the boss would wake up.

"You would hear it on and off but what I don't understand is, if it's true, why wasn't something done about it?" one Raider said Tuesday. "You want to make him your franchise quarterback and pay him $39 million to (expletive) off? You would think they heard the same things and that they would do something about it. I don't get that."

Three years and $39.4 million later, Davis threw up his hands and capitulated, releasing JaMarcus without acknowledging any efforts toward assistance. Moreover, Al is vowing to seek repayment of $9.55 million.

Perpetually ill-conditioned and rarely motivated, Russell was a poor impersonation of an NFL quarterback.

The Raiders, duly embarrassed by their decision to ride with Russell, have good reason to check themselves.

Newly enlightened, with a chance to get right, Russell would be wise to search his soul before facing an even greater challenge.

He turns 24 next month. He need not concern himself with saving his career. He has his life to salvage.