The Dexter Manley Suspension
Bucs defensive coordinator Floyd Peters did a little defending himself Wednesday. Reacting to claims that he might have played a role in the 1991 drug relapse of former Buc Dexter Manley, Peters dismissed accusations made in Manley's soon-to-be released biography, Educating Dexter.
In excerpts from the book, scheduled for release next month, Manley speculates that Peters' authoritarian style of coaching contributed to Manley's relapse last December, which led to a fourth failed drug test and a lifetime ban from the NFL. "I demand discipline on the practice field and in the games, and Dexter's life off the field shows his lack of discipline," Peters said. "His accusing me of harassing him is the same kind of discipline as when he's jumping up and down like a pogo stick, looking at the airplanes landing (at nearby Tampa International). That was his biggest thrill. Him blaming me for his fourth-time drug abuse is ludicrous."
Manley, 34, was claimed by Tampa Bay off waivers from Phoenix last September. He now is a reserve for Ottawa of the CFL. Besides linking Peters to his substance-abuse troubles, Manley labeled Tampa "a seedy town" and said Peters showed favoritism to linebacker Broderick Thomas and defensive end Keith McCants.
"Little did I know that Floyd would nearly drive me to my relapse," Manley said in his book, co-written with sports writer Tom Friend. "The beginning of the end for me was when I took a sip of champagne. I don't know if Floyd had contributed to my lower-than-normal self-esteem, but I believe so. I had been working on two years' sobriety, but one night I went to a club - which was stupid in the first place - and snuck a sip of Dom Perignon when no one was looking. Less than a month later, I did cocaine and lost the NFL forever. Tampa's a seedy town, man.
"Tampa probably wasn't a good place for me. In Phoenix, I never went to strip bars, and the players I hung out with weren't into seedy things. But the Tampa players liked to party, and I'm so impressionable."
As for his treatment of Thomas and McCants, Peters said his style is to "treat great ballplayers special. They deserve it, they work harder and they play better. "Anybody that has a discipline problem, I will always correct them and I will always take a good-sized chunk out of their butt if they keep doing it. I'm not going to change just because Dexter writes a book."
How Gary Shelton saw it unfold
Poor Dexter, you want to say. Poor, poor Dexter. He tested positive for drugs, again. He fell off the wagon, again. He screwed up his life, again. And he has been shuttled out of the NFL, again. Because of that, the temptation is to feel sorry for Dexter Manley, to shake your head and think of him as a victim. He is not.
Yes, there was sadness in the figure that was Manley on Thursday, weeping openly, his voice breaking as he talked. This is the way people will remember him, not as the defensive end with the quick burst and relentless pursuit but as a sobbing man who could not resist the temptations of stuffing drugs into his system. Yes, you want to feel for him, because drug addiction is a horrible problem, because you feel you know Dexter - or you know this image you have of him. This is what being a celebrity buys you: the illusion that a familiar face makes someone's frailties more important, more deserving of understanding, than those of ordinary people.
Thousands of people die of AIDS, but it seems to bother no one until Magic Johnson is HIV positive. The numbers are great, and they are sad, but to many they are like an earthquake in Peru - sadness at a distance. Likewise, thousands of people have drug problems, but their misfortune is largely ignored until a celebrity falls.
At the risk of being hard-hearted, however, you should temper your sympathy with perspective. Look at this problem, and hold it up to the light, and you will find the person responsible for making Dexter Manley a victim. It is Dexter Manley. He talked the talk, all right. He compared drug use to a river, and he swore he would swim in it no more. He persuaded the Redskins, Cardinals and Bucs to give him second chances. In the end, he burned two of those teams.
Drug addiction is a horrible, horrible beast, and it is indeed a shame that it will not let go of Manley. But is it a bigger shame than the other people being ravaged by drugs, the faceless people in the countless crack houses? Perhaps society should care more about them and less about the celebrities.
Ask yourself a question and see if you are comfortable with the answer: If Manley were not famous, if you had not seen him weep as he did Thursday or smile as he did in days past, would you care about his problem? Would he be one of the addicts that people look on with loathing and fear, or would he be a victim?
If anything, Manley's stature afforded him a better opportunity to beat this disease. He could get to the best clinics, he had support groups, he had an employer who tested him three times every week. Still, he was so self-destructive he failed again. He is now 0-for-3 on second chances.
So feel sad for him, but not sorry for him. If you are going to feel sorry for something, feel it for the drug problem as a whole, not for Manley in particular. What happens to drug abusers when they get out of the NFL? Usually, they are sentenced to 100 speaking engagements a year, getting major dollars to tell people to just say no. Usually, they write a book (Manley's almost is complete; if anything, this will help sales). So forgive me if it is hard to think of Manley as a victim.
Look, I like Dexter. He is an intelligent, charming man who speaks in punch lines. He has entertained most of us by the way he has played, though by the time he got to the Bucs he had almost nothing left of the skills that made him special. Odds are, he would not have returned to this league next season anyway. Yes, I feel sadness upon hearing the news that he has fallen again. Waste, even for a man who basically had two weeks left in his NFL career, always is a shame.
But the basic fact is this: The responsibility was Manley's. As former Redskins teammate Monte Coleman said, eventually you either choose to do drugs or you choose not to. "A person who is intelligent," Coleman said, "should choose not to do it."
The biggest shame of the entire situation is that he had the advantage of knowing what it was like to have everything taken away, and the advantage of getting it all back. The system didn't fail Manley. Manley failed Manley.