Discover more from The Sports Column
HENRY RUGGS III KILLED A PERSON — WHY NOT MORE OUTRAGE?
Speeding at 156 mph and driving drunk at twice the legal limit, the NFL receiver slammed into a car and watched the driver burn to death — and America cares more about Aaron Rodgers and Robert Sarver?
We can conjure up all the anger in our souls about a world gone mad. But nothing is more horrific than a burning vehicle with a human body inside, a 23-year-old woman cooked to death with her dog, the work of an NFL receiver who slammed into the back of her Toyota RAV4 after gunning his Corvette at 156 mph with more than double Nevada’s legal limit of alcohol in his system.
In a scene from a bad movie, about a night gone awry in Sin City, the girlfriend of Henry Ruggs III is heard screaming as they sit nearby on the street, “Please, can we get help?’’
But she is not referring to the dying woman in her flame-engulfed vehicle. She wants medical help for Ruggs, whom she says has been “knocked unconscious,’’ though only seconds earlier he had told her, “F—! Stop yelling!’’ as he sobbed, realizing his good life was over as another life perished on Rainbow Boulevard.
Short of Aaron Hernandez’s murder conviction, I am pressed to think of a recent sports-related atrocity more unspeakable. Formerly of the Las Vegas Raiders and a product of Nick Saban’s feeder system at Alabama, Ruggs should be considered the No. 1 enemy of the athletic world. He’s a drunken killer who faces a potential 46 years behind bars.
Yet, somehow, I am hearing more indignation about the vaccination deception of Aaron Rodgers. And, somehow, I am detecting more rage about the alleged toxic and hostile work environment of Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver. The American cultural condition never has been more divided and complex, I understand. But when the hunger to push the NFL to suspend Rodgers, and the NBA to rub out Sarver, is stronger than the pressure to bury Ruggs, who also had a loaded gun his car — well, all perspective has been lost in our land.
The Sarver story is distasteful, no doubt, the latest example of an Old White Guy Billionaire stuck in a racist, misogynistic frat house back in prehistoric times. ESPN’s investigative report is thorough and depicts a caveman not afraid to drop the N-word or tell staff employees about oral sex sessions with his wife and his sexual prowess in general, such as his need to wear extra-large condoms. Unlike Donald Sterling, whose racist comments as Los Angeles Clippers owner led to a swift lifetime NBA ban, Sarver’s alleged slurs aren’t on tape. So it will be trickier for the Board of Governors to remove him without a significant legal threat, hardly a drama embraced now by commissioner Adam Silver, who is trying to steer a league through a third season of upheaval.
What’s fascinating is that Sarver is defended in the report by Suns general manager James Jones, a respected disciple of LeBron James, whose influence on league matters remains potent. “None of what's been said describes the Robert Sarver I know, respect and like — it just doesn’t,’’ said Jones, who has joined hands with coach Monty Williams and floor leader Chris Paul to turn Sarver’s team into an NBA finalist. Yet, while the ESPN piece largely is based on information from unnamed sources, Sarver could be targeted for extinction as a racist owner in a predominantly Black league.
All of which is critical, of course, to the future of a sports industry with zero tolerance for hatred and bigotry. We will be watching closely as the NBA investigates Sarver, with a spokesperson saying the league has not “received a complaint of misconduct at the Suns organization through any of our processes, including our confidential workplace misconduct hotline or other correspondence." But then, Silver could be shrewdly letting ESPN — his business partner, not an independent news agency anymore — do the investigative dirty work before he swoops in and locates a new owner for a long-downtrodden franchise on the rise.
It’s a compelling story. But it’s a morsel compared to the tragedy of Ruggs ending a woman’s life with his zombie indiscretion. All Ruggs had to do after his night on the town, even at 3:40 a.m., was call a rideshare service provided free of charge by the NFL Players Association. But at 22, he wasn’t mature enough to grasp the life-changing consequences. He won’t play in the NFL again, nor should he, despite senseless defense attempts from the likes of New York Giants receiver Kadarius Toney, who tweeted, “We young…..everybody make mistakes….y’all lookin at the situation like “this or that” kuz it ain’t y’all…having so much too say….he know he messed up don’t drag em for it……that’s goofy to me….just pray for the families involved.’’
Yes, people make mistakes. ESPN Radio’s Mike Golic Jr. spoke thoughtfully of a night when he shouldn’t have been behind a wheel. Many of us have been there. But not at 156 mph, or any speed close — and not at twice the legal limit of alcohol, or any intake level close. Even in Vegas, the presiding judge said he’d never had a case in 16 years involving a crash at such a high speed, the impact of which propelled Tina O. Tintor’s car more than 570 feet in a residential area where the speed limit is … 55 mph.
“The family’s torn apart, as anybody would be,” Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “This was a terrible, terrible collision, so they’re mourning their loss. They’re grieving. They’re mad.’’
Did Aaron Rodgers jeopardize the health of teammates, coaches, auxiliary personnel — and their families — when he lied about being “immunized’’ for the coronavirus? He did. By concealing the truth, as I wrote yesterday, he placed his selfish interests above those of the Green Bay Packers. The backlash has been overwhelming, with this from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith: “Aaron Rodgers looks very bad today for all the wrong reason. Aaron Rodgers is a liar. Period. He lied to his team, with a smirk on his face, regarding a matter that is very, very serious.’’
But Rodgers, as of yet, hasn’t killed anyone or, far as we know, made anyone sick. Still, the emotions are stronger than they are about a drink-and-speed-and-crash-and-burn death in Vegas. Maybe the Rodgers topic is made for sports talk radio and Fox News. Maybe the Sarver topic is more reflective of the times. That said, a woman is dead because a pro football player drank too many mai tais and tried to drive home.
And we’re not supposed to “drag em for it’’ because “that’s goofy.’’
Do you ever wonder, as I do, how America became so warped?
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he has gravitated by osmosis to film projects.