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Wednesday, October 19, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Steve Kelley

Is the NFL out of control?

Seattle Times staff columnist

Do you ever get the feeling you care about your team more than some players do?

You buy the tickets. You paint your faces. You wear the jerseys with the names of your favorite players stitched across the back. You sit in every kind of weather and watch and worry for three hours every Sunday from September into January.

You form a lifelong bond with your team. But how lasting are the players' bonds to you?

If they really cared, would they put themselves in harm's way in the midst of a season that was beginning to feel special?

The horrific beating Seahawks safety Ken Hamlin sustained outside a Pioneer Square club early Monday morning could have been avoided.

He should be fine today, beginning the first day of preparations for Sunday's important game against the Dallas Cowboys, instead of resting in a hospital bed, fighting to regain his health after suffering serious head injuries in the Monday morning brawl.

The facts in the case remain murky. We don't know how the fight unfolded. We still don't know exactly what triggered the attack on Hamlin. But it seems clear there was a moment he could have walked away and didn't.

He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the decision to be there was his. He was in a place he shouldn't have been, at a time of night when he should have been home.

Hamlin made a disastrous decision at a time when his mind was foggy. When he no longer was thinking rationally. When he wasn't thinking about his responsibility to the franchise, his responsibility to his teammates or his responsibility to the Seahawks fans.

In the dangerous first hours of a new day, Ken Hamlin reached a crossroad and made the wrong turn.

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The more I think about what happened after the win over Houston, the sadder I get. Thinking about a battered Hamlin in a hospital, wondering what the silly spark was that ignited such a fight.

Thinking about how one bad decision could cost him his season and maybe his career. Thinking about how negatively his quicksilver temper will impact the Seahawks' season.

And thinking about how out of control the NFL seems right now.

Look at the Minnesota Vikings, the poster children for embarrassing behavior.

Where do you begin?

The season-long suspension of running back Onterrio Smith, after he was caught with paraphernalia that would assist him in beating a drug test.

Misdemeanor domestic-assault charges that were filed against defensive tackle Kevin Williams after he got into a fight with his wife.

The obstruction of justice and disorderly conduct charges filed against offensive linemen Marcus Johnson and Bryan McKinnie after a late-night brouhaha at a convenience store.

Or the recent, now-infamous love-boat cruise on Lake Minnetonka. A complaint has been filed with the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office accusing a gaggle of Vikings of participating in a sex party aboard two yachts the players chartered.

It would be funny, if it weren't so sad.

Nobody got hurt, it appears, on the love boat, but some of the players were acting as if they didn't care about their community, their team or the people who pay their salaries.

It's time the NFL took a serious look at its security policies and took a tougher stand on bad behavior.

It is true that the vast majority of NFL players are good people. At 2 a.m. Monday morning, most of the Seahawks were home, the ache from the hits taken Sunday night just beginning to settle into their joints.

The league is filled with players living up to their United Way ads. But too many players are getting into trouble, and more needs to be done to clean up the problems.

Rules have to become more Draconian. Coaches have to be held more accountable for the public conduct of their players.

A hit list should be made of clubs and restaurants that are off-limits to players. Every club in Pioneer Square should be on the list because history tells us stuff happens there.

The NFL Players Association may balk at a no-go zone. It might argue that these athletes are adults and should be allowed into any club they want. But too many players aren't acting like adults and are wandering into too many dangerous places and making them even more dangerous.

The Players Association has to consider its responsibility to the people who fill the stadiums and cheer for their teams with the kind of passion that sustains the league's health year after year.

I wrote yesterday that sometimes the players have to be protected from themselves. But it also is true that the public needs to be protected from the bad behavior of the players who arrive at the wrong places at the wrong times.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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