(The Root) — Allen Pinkett, a former star halfback and current radio analyst for Notre Dame, was sincere Wednesday when he said the Fighting Irish need "a few bad citizens" on their roster in order to succeed at the highest levels of college football.
"I mean, that's how Ohio State used to win all the time," Pinkett said Wednesday in a radio interview. "They would have two or three guys that were criminals. That just adds to the chemistry of the team … You can't have a football team full of choirboys. You get your butt kicked if you have a team full of choirboys, so you've gotta have a little bit of edge."
Not surprisingly, that was followed by a swift rebuttal from Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbick and a suspension for Pinkett. Swarbick said that the comments were "nonsense. Of course, Allen does not speak for the university, but we could not disagree more with this observation."
However, Pinkett was half right in his assertion, even though he subsequently apologized. "It's clear that I chose my words poorly and that an apology is in order for these inappropriate comments," he said in a statement. "My words do not reflect the strong pride and passion I have for the Notre Dame football program. I am deeply sorry and did not intend to take away the focus from the upcoming season opener."
But we can't have a frank and earnest discussion about top-level football — college or the NFL — if we overlook the sport's violent nature and some of the personality types it attracts.
The game demands a certain level of recklessness and abandon that some players have a hard time checking when they're away from the field. That's not to suggest that teams need criminals to win, but winning teams need (as Pinkett said) players with an edge, and some go overboard sometimes.
Sports Illustrated studied the top 25 teams last year and found 277 criminal incidents among 204 players. Nearly 40 percent of the incidents involved serious, violent charges, but others were things such as DUI and drug possession. We can't condone the latter offenses, but they epitomize the push-the-envelope behavior that Pinkett had in mind.
"I don't want any mass [murderers] or rapists," he said during the radio interview. "I want guys that maybe get caught drinking that are underage, or guys that maybe got arrested because they got in a fight at a bar, or guys that are willing to cuss in public and don't mind the repercussions of it. That's the type of criminal I'm talking about."
Ideally, players who succumb to those tendencies would learn to suppress them and yet retain the fiery passion that can result in All-America honors. And let's face it: Schools such as Notre Dame, Stanford and Northwestern — which have more-stringent academic requirements for all students, including athletes — will have a lower percentage of "knuckleheads" who are great at sports but might struggle in other areas of life.
I know what Pinkett was trying to say, even if Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and others feign ignorance. Kelly said he "can't wrap my brain around" Pinkett's comments. "I can't put any logic to it," he told reporters Thursday. "I want tough guys on the field, guys that play physical and are gentlemen off the field."
Coaches from the mightiest football powerhouses to the weakest football pushovers want the same thing. It's just that some schools are willing to bend more than Notre Dame. Some take more risks with risky players for the sake of winning (and, presumably, to mold better young men).
I'm not saying that's right or that's wrong. Each school must decide for itself.