Redemption: The act of atoning for a fault or a mistake. Deliverance. Salvation.
To err is human, and players in the NFL are not exempt. Professional athletes are no more perfect than the average person on the street yet they’re often held to a higher standard than the rest of society. Their lives are fodder for public consumption and every misstep is national news, entertainment for the rest of us. If I drive too fast, drink too much, or get into a fight, I pay a fine or spend a night in jail and move on with my life. If a player in the NFL has the same issue, he faces public ridicule and possibly the loss of endorsements and his job, likely losing a lot of money as well. That leaves them in the unenviable position of having to regain favor in the eyes of both the public and the league. This isn’t always easy.
The Cincinnati Bengals have long been a team willing to give second chances. Despite the mockery they’ve been subjected to over the years, Marvin Lewis and Mike Brown are willing to take a chance and allow a player a shot at sweet redemption. Lewis himself might be repaying karma for the second chances he’s been given in his stint with the Bengals. Whatever the reasoning, the Bengals have often been place where a player gets his last shot at reviving their career.
Redemption: Adam “Pacman” Jones might be the NFL’s poster child for second chances. Jones’ legal history is as long as an average-sized novel and is accompanied by numerous fines and suspensions from the league. The Bengals offered the troubled cornerback what might have been his last shot in 2010 and he has made the most of it, remaining relatively trouble-free. He has also been a valuable member of the lineup, playing very well in both the return game and at the CB position.
Deliverance: Vontaze Burfict was a projected star just a few years ago. His final season in college, however, was marred by penalties and inconsistency. A disappointing performance in pre-draft workouts further damaged his reputation and he dropped out of the draft completely. The Bengals once again stepped in, signing the linebacker as a free agent and giving him a chance to prove he belongs. Burfict responded in a big way, taking a starting job and becoming the team’s best LB by season’s end.
These two examples are just the beginings of a long list of players the Bengals have been willing to take a chance on. Sometimes the opportunity also goes to players that other teams no longer wanted. The Dallas Cowboys moved on from Terence Newman, who played brilliantly in Cincinnati in 2012. Wallace Gilberry had a huge impact on the defensive line last year. Jamaal Anderson, Manny Lawson and Reggie Nelson are all guys that the Bengals gave another opportunity to, with varying degrees of success and there have been plenty more over the years.
Second and even third and fourth chances are not something all of us are afforded in our lives. The NFL, where talented players are always waiting to steal a position away from another, can be particularly brutal to guys who make mistakes. Cincinnati has become a sort of haven, where careers can be revived and redemption had, if the player wants it badly enough. The players I’ve mentioned above wanted it and made it their mission to get their careers back on track. At the same time they’ve helped make the Bengals into contenders every year. Redemption isn’t easy and in football it can be even tougher. These guys have gained that redemption and earned what they were given. Next, they seek an even higher level, to repay the Bengals for the chance they were given, to earn something for their teammates and for the head coach who believed in them when nobody else did. They look to attain a championship and ultimately, salvation.