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Phillips Not Feeling Civil

Pro football: Rams' rookie running back won't talk about latest trouble, a suit filed by former Nebraska girlfriend.

September 05, 1996|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ST. LOUIS — Visiting hours began at 11:30, but Lawrence Phillips was a no-show in the Ram locker room as the media arrived in their assigned time slot.

In front of Phillips' locker there was no subpoena in sight.

There were seven TV cameras, more than 20 reporters, and the way the Rams have scheduled every Wednesday this was the time to make nice with the players. "Get all these damn reporters out of here," shouted defensive end Alberto White, and apparently the honeymoon in St. Louis has come to an end.

So when does No. 21 arrive?

"There are no one-on-one interviews with Phillips and you can only ask him about football," a Ram public relations spokesman said a few days ago in arranging an interview with Phillips.

So Lawrence, you like playing football?

"You don't want to mess with Lawrence Phillips," confided a Ram official. "This is a guy who can take out your entire family."

Phillips, perceived publicly as one of the baddest mugs in football after pleading no contest to dragging his girlfriend down a flight of stairs by her hair and then months later getting arrested and charged with driving drunk while on probation, was in the news again this week, and everyone wanted an interview Wednesday.

His former University of Nebraska girlfriend, Katherine McEwen, filed a civil suit alleging Phillips beat, threatened and sexually assaulted her during their two-year relationship. The lawsuit was filed Aug. 16 in Jackson County Circuit Court in Kansas City, and the following day Phillips played against the Chiefs in an exhibition game and was served with papers.

The Rams were aware of the civil suit, but chose to keep it quiet until it surfaced this week and caused the media stir.

A week ago, Phillips screamed at a local reporter who wanted to ask him a football question, and then let a pair of the team's public relations staff have it for reminding him of his agreement to talk each day after practice--if requested.

Forced to get his football pants out of his locker this week, he was caught from behind by a reporter.

"I don't do interviews," he said, and it would have been nice to know at this time if he was still undergoing treatment for anger control.

This is the time the Rams say interviews are supposed to be done, Phillips was told.

"I don't do interviews," he said.

Anybody up for talking to backup quarterback Jamie Martin?

A Ram official sounded encouraged. "He's in a good mood today."

Indeed. According to McEwen's suit, Phillips once shoved her head into a wall so hard it broke through the wall, then he choked her and would not allow her to leave his apartment. Later, according to court papers, he allegedly told her, "I'm going to shoot you in the kneecaps and then shoot you in the elbows. This is Los Angeles gang style of dealing with people."

Time to interview Jamie Martin.

"Before the draft we spent countless hours evaluating Lawrence with everybody in the Nebraska area," said Steve Ortmayer, the Rams' director of football operations. "[Coach Rich] Brooks talked for a long time with [Nebraska Coach] Tom Osborne, and the answers kept coming up this is not a dead-end guy."

Osborne put Phillips back on the football field after Phillips' assault incident, making some folks outside Nebraska think he was placing more importance on winning football games than holding athletes accountable for their actions.

"Apart from all the psychological testing he did before the draft, we sent him to our own team psychiatrist," said John Shaw, Ram team president. "At the time we drafted him we did not think he had a substance problem, and that was subsequently confirmed by all of the psychological testing. That's not to say he doesn't have a problem. The anger-control and maturity issues and the pressure he's under as the result of his upbringing or the profile of being an athlete, causes certain behavioral problems. Those are more the problem than any substance problem."

The Rams had the sixth pick in the draft, and while most everyone in the NFL identified Phillips as the most talented player available, five teams passed on him.

The Rams grabbed him, had him in for minicamp, and then upon his return to Los Angeles he was spotted driving beyond the speed limit on a flat tire down the highway. Who spotted him? The patrol officer whom Phillips passed on the highway.

"In my opinion, if you want to build a championship team you have to take some shots," Ortmayer said. "They have to be educated shots, and they have to be shots with the odds in your favor."

By now it's quite obvious, yes, Ortmayer grew up in the NFL working in the Raiders' front office.

"No question," said Ortmayer, whose background with the Raiders helped influence his decision to take a chance on Phillips. "If you feel that you can provide an environment different than a player might have had previously for him to overcome and succeed, then those risks are calculated and worth taking."

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