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He's the Fall Guy in Character Test

NFL DRAFT 1998 | BILL PLASCHKE

April 19, 1998|BILL PLASCHKE

Four million bucks.

You young sports stars are tired of listening to adults nag about character?

Fine.

Maybe you'll listen to this.

Four million bucks.

That is at least what Randy Moss lost Saturday after enduring the most expensive character evaluation in sports history.

Everyone agreed the incredibly gifted Marshall wide receiver should have been the fifth player taken in the NFL draft.

But many also agreed he was too troubled to be worth the trouble.

Moss tumbled from the fifth pick to 21st pick, which, in the top-heavy football world, is more than falling 16 picks.

It's falling 16 stories.

Last year's fifth pick earned $6.39 million in signing bonus and first-year salary . . . while the 21st selection earned $2.375 million.

OK, so Moss had a soft landing.

Four million bucks is four million bucks.

Somebody in this increasingly soulless world of athletics has finally put a price on morality, and this is it.

Hallelujah.

"This was more than a slap on the wrist," said Michael Josephson, president of the locally based Josephson Institute of Ethics. "This is the first official recognition that there is a cash value to character."

Athletes have messed up and been fined or suspended before--what, just about every day, right?--but this is different.

This was not a punishment. Moss did not drop in the draft because he recently did one thing wrong.

This was a statement. Moss dropped in the draft simply because when some NFL bosses looked at him, they saw everything wrong.

Instead of his great hands, they saw his feet kicking a fellow high school student as he lay helpless on the ground.

Instead of speed, they saw dope, and how he tested positive for it while in jail on a earlier misdemeanor battery conviction for kicking that kid.

Instead of hearing the cheers that accompanied his brilliant college season, they heard this:

"I wouldn't call it partying. I call it chillin'."

That was Moss, in an interview with The Times' Chris Dufresne last year, talking about smoking dope.

The NFL responded Saturday with an even shorter statement.

Enough is enough.

Obviously, it would be naive to believe that a bunch of football coaches were trying to make the world a better place.

Certainly, most of the teams passed on Moss not because it was bad ethics, but bad business.

Two years ago, embattled Lawrence Phillips should have been the first overall pick, dropped to sixth, and less than two years later was dropped by those St. Louis Rams.

Not because he was determined to be immoral.

But because he was a disruption.

What the league was avoiding Saturday by avoiding Moss was a repeat of those disruptions.

"It was still a cost-benefit analysis rather than a statement about how they don't want athletes embarrassing their teams in front of children," said Josephson, who runs the national "Character Counts" program. "If this were really good news, he would not have been drafted at all, and been made to prove himself later."

Agreed. But in a world where most of the messages make you want to push the mute button, this was finally one worth hearing.

No matter why the NFL said it, they said it.

Four million bucks.

Enough is enough.

Guaranteed, Latrell Sprewell won't be hearing that next year. There will be teams lining up to treat the great scorer like a hero.

Guaranteed, Wil Cordero, marked by a history of spousal abuse, wasn't hearing that this year. He should be hitting home runs for the Chicago White Sox any week now.

Guaranteed, the Angels tried to tell that to Tony Phillips last year, and couldn't. Randy Moss has heard it. Deathly silent, then loud and clear.

Where two years ago, the TV cameras were filled with a giddy Georgia Frontiere announcing that her Rams had just drafted a convicted criminal, this year's rogue watch was dark.

Holed up with his agents in Charleston, W. Va., Moss refused to appear on camera until after he was selected.

Then, when the Minnesota Vikings and Dennis Green could no longer control their competitive urges and selected him, Moss disappeared, refusing to address a group of media that he had invited.

We will see him again. He is a spectacular player. He is a joy to watch. Here's hoping he has a long and illustrious career.

Here's also hoping nobody forgets how it started, on a day when every skeptical, self-serving young athlete was finally given good reasons to behave.

Four million good reasons.

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