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Pros don’t do time for the crimes

Brian Hamilton

Did I miss something here? When did the National Football League surpass our criminal court system as a swift avenue for justice? Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time.

Isn’t that still true?

Apparently not, or at least not if you led the league in rushing last year or if your team just qualified for Major League Baseball’s playoffs.

Apparently, if you can run a 40-yard dash in sub-4.5 seconds – or if you’re able to send the horsehide into the cheap seats – you don’t have to do the time until it fits into your schedule.

Jamal Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens running back who topped the NFL in rushing yards in 2003, pleaded guilty this week to charges of attempting to set up a drug deal four years ago.

On Friday, the NFL handed Lewis an unpaid, two-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

The judge?

He accepted the plea agreement reached by the prosecutors and Lewis, which includes a four-month federal prison sentence and a two-month stay in a halfway house.

Lewis, though, wouldn’t have missed a single game this season without the NFL’s decision. That’s because his sentence will start after the regular season ends in January and will conclude before the 2005 season kicks off.

Perhaps the Ravens can squeeze in their spring mini-camp during Lewis’ move from the “big house” to the halfway house. We’d hate to see them – or him – inconvenienced in any way, of course.

And what about Rafael Furcal?

The Atlanta Braves shortstop was the toast of the town Thursday night, when his 11th-inning home run made sure the Astros would head back to Houston with a 1-1 tie in the best of five National League Divisional Series, rather than a 2-0 lead.

But he shouldn’t have even stepped into the batter’s box.

That’s because Furcal was sentenced Wednesday to a 21-day stay in jail, followed by a 28-day, in-house treatment program, after his probation violation on a drunken-driving charge.

The judge, though, delayed the start of the sentence until the day after the Braves’ season ends.

What in the name of Martha Stewart is going on here?

Since when does the personal schedule of the convicted determine when they must accept responsibility for their actions?

If either you or I were found guilty of such a charge, would the judge ask us to check our Palm Pilots to see if it was possible to pencil in our punishment? On our second driving under the influence conviction within four years’ time?

That’s exactly what Judge David Darden did for Furcal. Of course, he did stipulate that Furcal cannot drink alcohol or participate in postgame champagne celebrations and must submit to a portable breath-testing machine when ordered.

“Don’t take it lightly,” Darden said. “The court is concerned a second violation might indicate he has a problem with judgment with regard to alcohol.”

I would argue that the judge’s lax response to the second violation – which might indicate Furcal also has a problem with authority with regard to doing what he’s ordered – might only lead to an eventual third violation.

I could be wrong, though.

Maybe, he and Lewis have learned their respective lessons.

“That’s a lot of days,” Furcal said of his 21-day sentence before Game 1 of the NLDS. “It’s bad for me. I’ve never been in jail that long.

“I wanted to put it out of the way and get my mind better. Now I can focus on my game.”

Which, of course, is the most important thing.


Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. He may be reached via e-mail at brianh@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4240.


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