Mike Shanahan and the Character Issue

Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan didn't just throw Travis Henry under the bus on June 2 when talking about his decision to cut the running back. He tossed him beneath the entire Greyhound fleet. "The release speaks volumes," he told the assembled press. "You've got the little things, and if you don't do the little things, obviously you can't count on somebody."

Such comments suggest that Henry faltered due to serious personality flaws -- and given that the baller has famously fathered nine children with nine different women, such an argument is easy to make. Still, Shanny's pose as the ultimate defender of responsible citizenship is more than a little disingenuous. He's willing to overlook or make excuses for questionable character when bringing players aboard, only to cite these same factors when getting rid of them.

Nobody made Shanahan reach out to the likes of Dale Carter, Maurice Clarett or Daryl Gardener, who memorably demonstrated his class by kicking the crap out of a man in the parking lot of a local International House of Pancakes. Indeed, other NFL executives were decidedly wary of such players. But Shanahan -- who, you'll remember, helmed the Oakland Raiders for a time -- has repeatedly taken risks on athletes with well reported troubles on their records. Take Todd Sauerbrun, the subject of many articles like this one. Before the Broncos brought him aboard, the punter was one of three Carolina Panthers named in a steroid-related investigation and had also racked up a DWI. And afterward? He served a four-game suspension for using a banned dietary supplement and was arrested for reportedly slapping a taxi driver. An assault charge against him in regard to the latter incident fell by the wayside, but Sauerbrun wound up pleading guilty to disturbing the peace.

Predictably, Shanahan responded by giving Sauerbrun the boot -- but the kicker didn't go quietly. He complained about unfair treatment in the Rocky Mountain News, asking, "And their new motto about character guys? The guys I've seen them pick up, you're going to tell me those are good character people? I think not." Indeed, newly signed running back Michael Pittman has been involved in what the Rocky describes as "several domestic disputes."

Bottom line: Had Henry stayed out of trouble and performed on the field, Shanahan wouldn't have cared if he knocked up every Broncos cheerleader and half the booster club. But he didn't -- and as a result, the new design on the back of his jersey is tire tread. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts