There is a humongous difference between treating people equally and treating people fairly. We see it all the time in sports, politics, entertainment and business, where star performers are given much more slack than mediocre contributors.
I never heard anyone put it more bluntly than former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, who openly admitted that he treated everyone differently. If a fourth-string rookie guard fell asleep in a team meeting, he'd be cut on the spot and sent packing. If Emmitt Smith dozed off in a team meeting, he'd be nudged gently and given a cup of coffee.
Equal? No. Fair? Absolutely. It makes perfect sense, yet many folks seem surprised or outraged when the difference is acknowledged: Exceptional workers earn more exceptions because they're more valuable and harder to replace.
Chad Johnson should have remembered that simple truth when he signed a one-year contract with the Miami Dolphins. Aging wide receivers coming off pitiful, 15-catch seasons with New England have little leeway and less latitude when trouble finds them. That's the primary reason Miami wasted no time in cutting Johnson after his weekend arrest for allegedly head-butting his wife.
If his first name was Calvin instead of Chad, and he played for Detroit instead of Miami, Johnson still would be employed today. And there's nothing wrong with that. The Lions' wideout led the NFL last season with 1,681 receiving yards and was second in receiving TDs (16). Nicknamed "Megatron," he's 26 years old, stands 6-foot-5 and runs the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds.
It takes more than a misdemeanor domestic abuse charge to put players like that on the street. Conversely, at this very moment there's probably someone on the street (or the NFL scrap pile of unsigned players) who can offer production similar to what Chad Johnson would have delivered for Miami.
The mercurial wide receiver was less valuable to his hometown team than he was to HBO, which is embedded in Dolphins' training camp for "Hard Knocks." Given Johnson's history as an entertainer extraordinaire — from touchdown celebrations to "Dancing With the Stars" to his own VH1 reality show — playing football at this stage merely was the bridge to his next career.
But he messed up both counts, at least temporarily.
He won't be a fixture on "Hard Knocks" after this week's episode, surely depressing news for the show's producers. Even worse news for Johnson, his latest reality venture on VH1, "Ev & Ocho," has been shelved before the first episode even aired.
Eleven episodes were taped, focused on him and his new wife, Evelyn Lozada of "Basketball Wives" fame. The season premiere was set for Sept. 3. But the network pulled the plug based on the "unfortunate events over the weekend and the seriousness of the allegations," according to a statement, and said there are "no current plans of airing it." It's probably a moot point now, since Lozada filed for divorce Tuesday, the 41st day of their marriage.
The Dolphins knew the risks in signing such a flamboyant extrovert. He unleashed a torrent of F-bombs during his introductory news conference and was subsequently reprimanded by rookie coach Joe Philbin in a "private," sideline conversation that was captured and broadcast by HBO. Johnson also playfully crashed a coaches' meeting and jokingly promised to get arrested as he left the building for the Dolphins' day off.
At least I thought he was joking.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell surely doesn't find anything funny in another player arrest, pushing this year's total past 30. There's a perception, accurate or not, that his league employs a preponderance of lawbreakers, including some on their second, third or fill-in-the-blank chance.
Take veteran halfback Cedric Benson, for instance. He had a pair of alcohol-related arrests while with Chicago and a pair of misdemeanor assault arrests while with Cincinnati. He signed with Green Bay this week.
Critics might howl, but it's not much different than in other fields, where disgrace in one place can be followed by grace in another place. Besides, we always hear about the arrests but often miss the adjudication (does it matter that Benson was cleared of charges in both Chicago incidents?).
If Johnson's NFL career is over, it won't be solely because he argued with his wife after she found a receipt for condoms. It also will be because he's no longer the same player who registered more than 1,000 yards receiving in seven of eight seasons from 2002-2009. He's simply not worth the trouble for most would-be employers.
That's not equal treatment. But it's fair.
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Deron Snyder is an award-winning journalist and Washington Times sports columnist with more than 25 years of experience. He has worked at USA Today and his column was syndicated in Gannett’ 80-plus newspapers from 2000-2009, appearing in The Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, The Detroit News and many others. Follow Deron on Twitter @Its_Ball_Good or email him at email@example.com.
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