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Jeremiah Ratliff Altercation a Very Serious Situation

Contrary to initial reports, the Jeremiah Ratliff altercation at the Chicago Bears' training facility was a scary situation. What should have been reported?

TMZ has released details from a serious altercation that former Chicago Bears’ defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff had with staffers on October 21st at the Bears’ headquarters in Lake Forest, IL. According to police reports and 911 tapes Ratliff “went berserk” and threatened “everyone” at the Bears’ training facility:

According to the report, obtained by TMZ Sports, Ratliff walked into the Bears facility on October 21st claiming he needed to get his stuff and told someone, “He felt like killing everybody in the building.”

…According to the report, Ratliff told someone, “I am the devil” and “he wished staff member’s children would die.”

The initial reports in the Chicago media about the Jeremiah Ratliff altercation were sketchy and almost innocuous. The Chicago Tribune described a situation where Ratliff showed up to practice “not in a condition to work.”

Wednesday’s fireworks began in Lake Forest when Bears officials judged that Ratliff arrived at team headquarters not in a condition to work, according to sources. When the team sent Ratliff home from the facility, an argument ensued.

A few days later Bears’ head coach John Fox downplayed the incident:

“Every situation is individually different,” Fox said. “Like all our personnel decisions, regardless of who and what name’s on it, it’s what we feel like is best for the football team. And his was no different.”

The early reporting did mention a police presence, and a verbal confrontation that Ratliff had with general manager Ryan Pace; but there was nothing specified that indicated the actual seriousness of the situation. Today TMZ published the details from police reports and the original 911 call placed by Bears’ Director of Security John Tarpey.

What was originally portrayed as a story about just a disgruntled NFL player now emerges as another chapter in the potentially dangerous and sometimes violent world of NFL player relations. Ratliff’s incident with the Bears was not the first time that he had been dismissed from team facilities.

On Dec. 26, Ratliff caused a disturbance at what turned out to be coach Marc Trestman’s final practice and team personnel escorted him out of the facility. He did start the season finale in Minnesota that Sunday.

There are several disturbing aspects to the Ratliff saga. First, why weren’t there more details immediately available? The situation was clearly dangerous and immediately threatening. The Bears’ front office under 37-year old GM Ryan Pace and veteran head coach John Fox has been extremely guarded to the Chicago media, but did this situation require more openness? There was a very angry man who was possibly drunk or drugged, and clearly disturbed, making universal death threats at a workplace. Common sense would dictate that the public should be informed for reasons more pertinent than another NFL firing. Two days after the incident Dan Bernstein, a radio host for WSCR The Score in Chicago and columnist for CBS Chicago, wrote about the delay in reporting.

No media cared to share at the time that Ratliff was seen in animated conversations or that police cars were arriving later. Sources indicate that great care was taken by at least one outlet to confirm and connect the various observations before reporting, even if Twitter now allows for them to be provided as free-standing facts, entirely in line with proper journalistic ethics.

Another disturbing aspect to Ratliff’s confrontation was the specter of guns. The TMZ story included this line to their reporting.

One Bears official told police they had concern for the safety of Bears staffers — and warned cops they believed Ratliff owns multiple firearms.

NFL fans will never forget the terrifying incident that occurred at the Kansas City Chiefs’ training facility on December 1, 2012. Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend nine times before killing himself in front of the Chiefs’ GM Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel. Belcher had a blood-alcohol level twice the legal limit at the time of the murder/suicide.

Obviously, every situation is different and employee/employer confrontations occur all over the country every day. But what, exactly, are the responsibilities of NFL teams to the public and their players? Clearly, teams have a serious grasp of players’ lives on and off the field. The legendary NFL security apparatus stretches its tentacles far beyond the scope of normal law enforcement. When a player like Belcher or Ratliff starts to become unglued, is there a reasonable expectation that the NFL, or its teams, would take equal measures to protect players, their families, and the public? Jack Moore, from Vice Sports, wrote an interesting and comprehensive article describing the extralegal reach of NFL security.

…these stories paint a clear picture, one of an NFL security apparatus willing to do whatever it takes to make sure any information damaging to teams stays below the surface, even if that means hurting athletes or women around the team. The same facts also paint a picture of an NFL Security apparatus willing to ignore the law to find out whatever they need to find out and to cover up whatever they need to cover up. And they paint a picture of an NFL that worries more about being compromised than about protecting the players and families who make up the league.

How much influence do the NFL and individual teams exert on the media directly or indirectly? If the Jeremiah Ratliff saga is any indication traditional sports media outlets are not adequately equipped or prepared to report on situations that may prove too germane to public safety. If Hard Knocks can consistently film the firing of NFL players, then why shouldn’t the public be informed about an altercation involving a potentially lethal combination of substance abuse, death threats, and guns? Sports fans know more now than ever about the lives and inner workings of NFL players and teams, but we have a long way to go before sports reporting pierces The Shield.

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