Sports reporters have had a field day writing about the countless NFL scandals that played out in media headlines over the past year, but Benjamin Watson, the Christian tight end for the New Orleans Saints, believes some might be unfairly scrutinizing the league.
Watson, 34, acknowledges the scandalous stories that have been written about the NFL, but insists the negative reports are not an accurate representation of the league as a whole.
"You've got a league with a couple thousand players or so depending on the time of year. Then you have 10 or more very high profile stories that are terrible stories and things that have happened," he told The Christian Post. "The majority of the guys are not in the news; they're doing great things in the community, they're doing great things at home, playing well and abiding by the rules. There's probably more than the general population, to be honest with you."
Still, it's hard to ignore the negative stories on NFL players that've surfaced in the past six months alone. In May, former San Francisco 49ers lineman Ray McDonald was arrested twice in one week for charges stemming from restraining order violations, misdemeanor domestic violence and child endangerment charges.
The Chicago Bears picked McDonald up after the 49ers let him go last December, when it was announced that the lineman was being investigated for sexual assault. The Bears have since parted ways with McDonald.
Last April, former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was found guilty of the first-degree murder of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd, a case that has been playing out in headlines since the former NFL player was indicted in 2013.
In March, former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was arrested and indicted for third-degree aggravated assault after a video of him knocking out his now wife went viral. The year started off with a scandal called "Deflate-Gate," in which the Patriots were first accused of using underinflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts in January.
Watson insists, however, that these high profile examples of NFL players making mistakes are just unfortunate events.
"It's unfortunate that so many of the guys who are doing right are painted with the broad brush by the guys who aren't. Then when you have these situations like Ray Rice's, they are things that are unfortunate and they're bad," the tight end explained to CP. "Most of the guys in the NFL would sit here and tell you we don't condone the abuse of a child, any sort of abuse of a woman, breaking rules, failing drug tests or doing any of those things. We hold ourselves to a very high standard."
Watson believes that many of the NFL players who made mistakes will admit their wrongdoing and be remorseful about their bad decisions. He noted, however, that they will also have to face the consequences of their actions.
"When things like this happen, you have to take the punishment whatever it is," he said. "The NFL has had our fair share this year and that's why it's in the news, that's the sad part about it."
One of the biggest headlines that has been circulating centers around his former team, the Patriots. Watson played on the team alongside Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady from 2004 to 2009 and believes "the jury may still be out" due to a lack of proof of the QB's involvement in deflating footballs to gain an unfair advantage for the team.
Still, the tight end was present for the 2007 scandal that rocked the Patriots which has been dubbed, "Spygate," since the team was penalized for videotaping signals from their opposing New York Jets' defensive coach. While the team's integrity has been brought into question by some sports fans and pundits, Watson is disappointed that the entire team might suffer as a result.
"My overall feeling is that you have an organization that has violated some rules in the past, so there is a sort of suspicion when it comes to the Patriots. When I look at guys on the team I see that [they] are upstanding, give their all to the game and do it the right way. ... Now they're all in question," he explained. "That's what is disappointing to me. But I do think that this, too, shall pass and next year we won't even be talking about it. If you're winning football games there's a lot that people can kind of sweep under the rug."
Watson is a football player that not only commands attention for his on field performance, but for the opinions that he has shared publicly in social media posts that have gone viral about topics like Christian persecution, and the issue of racial tensions stemming from cases that took place in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland.
The husband and father of four recently won the Sports Impact award at the K-LOVE Fan Awards which he calls an amazing, humbling and an encouraging experience that he never would have dreamed of last year.
Beyond the accolades and notoriety that come along with being a professional athlete, however, the tight end who got his start as a young believer in a Christian household keeps his faith at the forefront of his NFL career.
"I would say that one of the hardest things for an athlete, and really anybody of any profession, is that we create our identity in what we do," Watson said. "It's been a constant struggle with my athletic career to identify myself as a child of God and understand that His love is unconditional for us; it's not conditional like fans, or coaches, or even myself. Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly for the Lord and not for man because our true identity is in Him. "