I’ve been trying all week to write an honest response to Cris Carter’s “fall guy” debacle. As a mother of a college football player, I wanted to convey my heart without coming off judgmental. After all, we’ve all done and said things that we wish hadn’t been recorded and made public or things we wish we could undo and unsay. However, this isn’t the case with Cris Carter. In his case, there was no expectancy of privacy. He was on a public stage in front of NFL rookies, wearing his Hall of Fame jacket with NFL league staff present. Carter knew there were reporters in the room and that his presentation was being recorded. Yet, he still chose to fluidly, without hesitation provide the reckless advice to a room filled with young men entering the NFL.
I’ve watched that video about five times, and each time, my heart breaks. The nonchalant way he went about giving such irresponsible and dangerous advice to these young men was as if he gives this advice regularly. He wasn’t at all uncomfortable with what he was saying nor was he slightly ambiguous. He was all in and committed to his “very bad advice”, as if this is not just something he’d heard but he had lived, and worse, he has no regrets and can now freely pass on his ignorance to new rookies. “If you all have a crew, one of those fools got to know, he’s the one going to jail,” Carter said in the video. “We’ll get him out.” Wearing his NFL Hall of Fame jacket, Cris Carter recklessly abused his power of influence, potentially leading astray young impressionable men entering a profession filled with opportunities and pitfalls.
You cannot change behavior without changing the culture. We want to attack bad behaviors without first addressing the culture that celebrates, promotes and perpetuates those bad behaviors, actions and mindset. What’s so dangerous about what Cris Carter did is his words and actions endorsed a culture that parents and good coaches work tirelessly to diffuse and destroy. This very bad advice didn’t come from a so-called nobody, but it flew effortlessly out of the mouth of an NFL Hall of Famer who was sent there to provide life-enhancing advice to a room filled with young men who hope to one day, like Carter, become NFL Hall of Famers.
Cris Carter had an amazing opportunity to encourage, wisely instruct those young men, but what he ended up doing is endorsing a culture that leads to prison and destruction. As a mother of college kid who plays football at the Ohio State, I was deeply disappointed, sadden and honestly angry. As parents, we work too hard to keep our kids on the straight path and to have someone tell our sons to live beneath what’s right because he has a few more dollars than his friends was infuriating. The lack of value of the lives of others was even more offensive. In Cris Carter’s world, the more money you have, your life is then more valuable than the lives of others with less money and no fame. If a white guy had given such advice to a room filled with predominately African-American young men, there would be outrage. He would be called a racist among other things. But it’s Cris Carter; so we find excuses, and brush it aside because of his ambiguous apology.
His apology is even more disturbing and lack full comprehension of the ramifications of his actions. “Seeing that video has made me realize how wrong I was. I was brought there to educate young people and instead I gave them very…bad advice. Every person should take responsibility for his own actions. I’m sorry and I truly regret what I said that day.” The problem with Carter’s apology is he appears more sorry that the video of what he said was made public and he’s under scrutiny. According to NFL’s statement, the league says it addressed the Hall of Fame wide receiver immediately after his presentation. “This was an unfortunate and inappropriate comment made by Cris Carter during the 2014 NFC Rookie Symposium. The comment was not representative of the message of the symposium or any other league program. The league’s player engagement staff immediately expressed concern about the comment to Cris.” So Carter wasn’t sorry after he was confronted. He was only sorry after scrutiny from the video ensued.
Popular responses from some ESPN’s analysts is to blame the NFL and NFL culture, while others said Carter was simply “keeping it real”. They’re blaming the league for a culture created by its players. Culture is created by mindset and behaviors. Just last week, some NFL veterans were proudly saying Jets quarterback, Geno Smith, deserved to get his jaw broken because he didn’t pay his now former teammate $600. “When you owe a man money, you gotta pay or else.” This is prison culture perpetuated by players in a professional league. It has to be addressed and it has to stop. We can’t decry the large incarceration of black males and accept violence as an appropriate response and reckless counsel as “keeping it real”. Cris Carter had an opportunity to be a positive model but chose to promote a criminal culture of entitlement. Carter’s remarks and presentation were reckless, infantile and ignorant. This is not a judgement. It’s an accurate evaluation.
To positively impact behavior, you must create a culture that fosters positive changes in behavior. The military understands this and so do great teams and families. As parents, we’re constantly competing with popular culture to advise our sons how to become productive professionals, husbands, fathers and community leaders. If our sons treat women well, they’re considered weak. If they walk away from violence, they’re considered punks. When you have an older man, an NFL Hall of Famer, deliberately advising young men to do the crime and let their “fall guy” do the time, it’s an action that should be severely punished. But ESPN allowed Cris Carter back to work a day later. The NFL still has an opportunity to right this wrong and send a message counterculture to the world Cris Carter lives and is trying to get our sons to live, a world void of accountability, maturity and wisdom.
Cris Carter clearly abused his position and power of influence while donning the Hall of Fame jacket. Carter’s advice and demeanor are a cultural problem for young men, especially young black men who look for men like Carter to emulate and model. Cris Carter on that day promoted and encouraged a criminal culture, a culture of ignorance and entitlement, therefore endorsing the behaviors, actions and results of that culture.
Cris Carter should no longer represent the NFL Hall of Fame anywhere. We heard his apology but along with his apology, there must be some consequence. While league staff stood quiet that day, this is an opportunity for the NFL to provide a final rebuttal denouncing Carter’s reckless presentation and endorsement of criminal behavior and culture. It’s time for the NFL to hold Cris Carter accountable for his “very bad advice.”