CINCINNATI -- The Bengals have built a reputation as a team that can’t win a playoff game and can’t keep its players out of jail. The facts support it.
You already know about the 26-year streak without a playoff victory and Marvin Lewis’ 0-7 record in the postseason. The Bengals' arrest record and history of violence against women are frustrating and troubling, too.
Those issues, and the team's history of giving second chances to troubled players, were thrust back into the news when the Bengals drafted Joe Mixon last Friday. A local organization, Women Helping Women, spoke out this week in concern for the message the Bengals send to the community by drafting a player who punched a woman in the face.
The Bengals' record includes:
- Eight arrests involving reported attacks on women since 2000, according to media databases that track NFL player arrests.
- A league-leading number of arrests and citations between 2000 and 2009.
- A claim by a former player's abused wife that the Bengals advised her to call club officials -- not the police -- when her husband attacked her so the club could avoid bad publicity.
It also shows when top players were accused of attacking women, the Bengals kept them on the team. Lesser players were dismissed, but sometimes later rather than sooner.
In 2006, the Bengals drafted a player who had been accused of sexual assault five months earlier and allowed him to remain on the team for a year while he had two more arrests.
After the Bengals drafted Mixon last week, Lewis said the Oklahoma running back, who was 18 when he punched a 20-year-old woman and broke four bones in her face three years ago, deserved a second chance. The Bengals have a long history of giving second chances and more to players, going back to their first season in 1968. Many didn't work out. Adam Jones' legal troubles -- 10 arrests or citations since he came into the NFL (four with the Bengals) -- have been well documented.
The database NFLArrest.com shows 30 Bengals have been arrested or cited a total of 44 times since 2000 -- not counting Mixon or anyone else they drafted this year. That’s the third highest total of arrests/citations in the league. Between 2000 and 2009, when their reputation as jailbirds grew, the Bengals were tied for No. 1 with Minnesota (30 arrests or citations in the decade).
Eight of those Bengals cases involved attacks on women, according to the database. Mixon would make nine. His attack, caught on video, took place in a restaurant in Norman, Oklahoma in 2014.
(WARNING: This video may be too disturbing for some viewers):
Some media and fans have criticized the Bengals for picking Mixon, raising concerns about how the Bengals management team deals with cases involving violence against women.
That was the message of Mercedes Sands, who caught national attention in a Page 1 article in the New York Times on Nov. 18, 2014. She claimed her husband, Bengals safety Robert Sands, regularly abused her. She and Robert Sands both said Lewis advised them in a meeting not to call police but to call the Bengals and let the team take care of the situation, according to the report.
Lewis and the Bengals vigorously denied that in statements the day the article came out.
Bengals Director of Communications Emily Parker told WCPO that the Bengals and Women Helping Women's leadership met Monday and "look forward to continuing our conversation as we look for ways to work together."
"We recognize the Bengals hold a special place in the community and we are committed to being good corporate citizens," she said.
Parker did not comment on the past cases involving Bengals players and violence against women.
The Sands story was published two months after the release of the video of then Baltimore running back Ray Rice slugging his girlfriend (now wife) in a hotel elevator, and it turned the spotlight of domestic violence in the NFL on the Bengals.
According to the Times' report, headlined "N.F.L. Was Family, Until Wives Reported Domestic Abuse," Mercedes and Robert Sands started fighting a few months after they were married in 2011. In January 2012, Mercedes Sands said she was trying to flee her husband from their Boone County home and drove her car into a neighbor’s house, knocking herself unconscious. The police arrived and "the Bengals became alarmed," the report says.
Lewis called the couple to a meeting at Paul Brown Stadium, she said.
“They made it seem like we are a family,” Mercedes Sands told the Times. "'Anything you need, you come to us. We are here to help you.’"
According to Mercedes Sands, she followed Lewis' counsel and refrained from calling police as more problems arose. Instead, she called Eric Ball, the Bengals’ player relations coordinator. Ball took her calls and sometimes went to the couple’s house in the middle of the night to help, she said.
On Jan. 4, 2013, she called police to report her husband had choked her. She was eight months pregnant and she said he had put his weight on her stomach. Police arrested Robert Sands. It was two days before the Bengals' playoff game in Houston.
Mercedes Sands said she expected support from the others players' wives but she was met with silence.
“No one was there. The wives weren’t there. No one answered my phone calls," she said.
She said Robert Sands cleared out their joint checking account and canceled her credit card. She said she had to rely on food stamps and church handouts during the final weeks of her pregnancy.
Lewis responded in brief comments at a news conference, denying her claim against him.
"The police were called and contacted before anything ever got to that point. I don't know where her rationale comes from that. What they were asked to do is work on their relationship. We offered counseling to them and many times where they missed the appointments to where the counselors would no longer take their appointments. So, really, I think from Mercedes' standpoint she ought to be more truthful in what she's talking about," Lewis said.
Watch a video of a WCPO newscast from that day showing Lewis' comments and audio of Mercedes Sands' response:
The Bengals released Robert Sands the following June -- six months after his arrest. Sands played only one game in two years with the Bengals and not at all during the 2012 season after getting hurt in a preseason game. When the Bengals cut him, they said their decision was based on his performance.
Of the eight Bengals accused of attacks against women, the team kept three top players to play out their useful careers or until they left as free agents or were traded: Jones, RB Corey Dillon and DE Frostee Rucker.
Jones was charged with punching a woman at a bar in 2013. Jones said the woman asked to take a picture with him, and when he refused, she thrust a beer bottle at him and poured beer on him. Jones claimed self-defense and was acquitted.
Dillon, the Bengals' all-time leading rusher and a three-time Pro Bowl selection while playing here, was accused of hitting his wife in 2000, according to the database. (That was before Lewis became head coach in 2003). Dillon got diversion and court-ordered counseling. He played four more seasons with the Bengals until they traded him to the Patriots.
Rucker, a defensive end, was accused of fighting with a girlfriend at a party, according to the database. That happened two months after the Bengals drafted him in 2006. He pleaded no contest to vandalism and false imprisonment and got three years of probation, 750 hours of community service. Rucker stayed on the Bengals for six seasons and was a mainstay of the defense for three until he left as a free agent.
In the other players' cases, charges were dropped or players got probation or a similar punishment that didn't require jail time, or charges were expunged after they went through counseling.
The Bengals did cut a promising young linebacker, Ahmad Brooks, in 2008, but that was a full three months after a neighbor woman claimed he punched her in the face during an argument. And the Bengals let Brooks participate in training camp before they released him in the final cuts.
The 49ers picked up Brooks in 2009 and he turned into one of the top players on their defense. He has been a starter for the last six seasons.
There’s no explaining how Nate Webster, a former Bengals linebacker, had a sexual relationship with the teenage daughter of one of his Bengals coaches and ended up in prison. That happened in 2009, four years after he last played for the Bengals.
The issue of the wisdom of giving second chances to players with marks on their character came up again when the Bengals drafted Mixon.
Stanley Wilson got one chance after another until he overdosed on cocaine in the team hotel the night before Super Bowl XXIII. That got him kicked out of the NFL for good.
Wide receiver Chris Henry was arrested six times between 2005 and 2008 and got a half-season suspension from the NFL. He died in a road accident in 2009 during what police described as a domestic dispute with his fiancée.
She drove off in a pickup truck after an argument and Henry jumped into the back of the truck. Witnesses said he pounded on the cab window and begged her to talk with him, but she didn't stop. As she drove around a curve, he fell out and was killed.
With Jones in trouble again, he and the Bengals are waiting to find out whether the NFL will suspend him for part or all of the 2017 season. Jones was arrested in January and charged with assault on a security guard at a Downtown hotel. Video showed Jones repeatedly cursing at a police officer and scuffling with jailers. He also spit on a female nurse, according to officials. He faces misdemeanor counts of assault, disorderly conduct and obstructing official business. The NFL suspended Jones for the full 2007 season and part of 2008 before the Bengals signed him in 2010.
One Bengal who made the most of his second chance was Jess Phillips.
The Bengals' history of second chances started with team founder and Hall of Famer Paul Brown in the Bengals' first season, 1968. In the fourth round, Paul Brown drafted Phillips, a former Michigan State player who was serving a prison sentence for forging a check.
Upon Phillips' release, Mike Brown picked him up and drove him to training camp.
Phillips was "a kid with an engaging personality who has it all in front of him," Paul Brown said at the time. He turned out to be right. Phillips played six years with the Bengals and four more with the Saints, Raiders and Patriots.
In those days, players didn't make enough money to live on and worked off-season jobs to get by. Phillips worked as a mortgage loan officer for Central Trust Bank in Cincinnati and later became a stock trader.
A.J. Nicholson, a Florida State linebacker the Bengals drafted in 2006, had been accused of sexual assault during his senior year at Florida State. Authorities said the assault happened at the Miami hotel where Florida State was staying before the Orange Bowl. The university suspended him and sent him home. Charges were pending while the draft came and went.
The Bengals took Nicholson in the fifth round after first selecting Johnathan Joseph, Andrew Whitworth, Rucker and Domata Peko. Those four had long, successful NFL careers. Nicholson did not. He just had more trouble.
Six weeks after the draft, before training camp, Nicholson was charged in a robbery. He and another FSU teammate were accused of stealing $1,500 worth of stereo equipment from another FSU teammate’s room. Nicholson had other run-ins with the law before he left FSU -- a DUI and a resisting arrest -- that apparently were red flags for other teams.
Nicholson made the Bengals in 2006, but played in only two games. He was arrested again May 18, 2007, for domestic violence. He was still on the Bengals at that point. He was accused of hitting his girlfriend in the eye, but she later recanted her statement, saying she hit herself with a phone.
The Bengals released Nicholson three days after that arrest. Nicholson and Sands never played in the NFL after the Bengals cut them.