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Ryan Mallett, Nick Fairley and the importance of context

This is a great time of year for football fans, second only to the actual season itself, as we gather round and yak obsessively about the future of the St. Louis Rams and the players who will be part of that future. There's also a dark side to all of it, one that's much more prominent now that we document everything in our lives via social media and people on the web then dissect and discuss every possible detail. It's that time of year when potential 2011 NFL Draft picks get their names dragged through the mud, confusing youthful indiscretion for legitimate red flags. 

Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett is the latest and most prominent of the high profile draft picks to have his name sullied. Another one is Auburn DT Nick Fairley. Neither player is on the Rams' draft radar since they don't need a quarterback and Fairley will be off the board by the time St. Louis picks in the first round. For a team that's given such heavy emphasis to head coach Steve Spaguolo's "four pillars" it's a useful reminder to take any and all allegations in context. 

Mallett is the subject of some rumors/allegations that he used drugs. Wait, a college kid using drugs? Take a moment to collect yourself and exhale into that toilet paper roll stuffed with fabric softener. A post at one of the infinite number of draft sites makes this claim about Mallett. It's a serious mattter in that it could really hurt his draft stock and future in the NFL, not to mention his reputation. 

My intention here isn't to condone recreational drug use, but it's something to keep in context. The report on the web doesn't cite anything other than people who say Mallett used drugs drugs. Was he smoking crack under a bridge? Or was did he snort a couple rails at a party? I'd venture to say it's the later.

The biggest red flag, to me, is that if Mallett really did do this, he did so without giving thought to the fact that he was potentially a high round draft pick who stood to make a lot of money and could have his character defamed in an era where people will use the slightest brush with celebrity to get their own 15 minutes. That shows arrogance and just plain stupidity. It doesn't make him worse than Hitler, and that's tragically missing from the discussion, i.e. perspective. 

It's pure conjecture around Nick Fairley's so-called character concerns. The result of a Mobile taxi cab conversation in which the poster learned that Fairley is a close friend of JaMarcus Russell. That alone could sink his draft stock. Is that fair? Not at all. Asked in the guise of question it has a little more legitimacy, but still represents the kind of information that fuels nasty rumors. 

The Rams covered Sam Bradford's background every which way but loose. Even for squeaky clean Sam it was a smart move. Front offices have every right to make sure they aren't throwing millions of dollars down the rabbit hole of unrealized potential. 

Kids screw up. Leave the investigation and speculation to NFL front offices to deal with. They may very well find a kid who screwed up and is able to overcome his youthful indiscretions. But it's much more difficult for a player, who is still a person after all, to overcome the damage to his reputation.