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Issues of character weighed on sliding scale

This is Buffalo, so nobody should have been stunned by the events involving the Bills and Sabres over the past week. Things were almost going too smoothly after Rex Ryan showed up with a pimped-up pickup truck filled with optimism, and Tim Murray started wheeling and dealing at the draft.

It would have been asking too much for both professional sports franchises to continue moving in the right direction and sail through the offseason without a scratch. Unfortunately, you can always count on some athlete or coach getting into trouble and becoming a major distraction.

Sure enough, with the Bills less than three weeks from training camp and the ink barely dry on a $52 million contract extension for the Sabres’ new No. 1 center, two arrests in less than 48 hours interrupted an otherwise blissful summer. Buffalo was left shaking its collective head.

Let’s go in reverse chronological order.

Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer was accused of pushing a juvenile to the ground, punching him in the face and threatening to kill his family if he told police. He was placed on paid administrative leave while the investigation continues. Police said the altercation started before midnight Saturday over a beach chair.

People were still digesting that incident Monday – seriously, a beach chair? – when they heard Ryan O’Reilly was arrested for driving while his ability was impaired. Apparently, he drove his vintage 1951 Chevy pickup into a Tim Hortons shop in Ontario and left the scene of the accident around 4 a.m. Thursday.

Kromer and O’Reilly will never be confused with nuclear physicists, as you can see. It sure looks like Kromer has a big ego and short temper. O’Reilly comes off an immature and irresponsible party boy, someone lacking in self-awareness and common sense.

Their arrests were enough to raise a few simple questions about the Bills’ and Sabres’ hiring practices.

Do they perform adequate background checks? Do they overlook flaws that made them susceptible to potential problems? Is the quality of the performer more important than the character of the person?

Such inquiries could be directed toward Kim and Terry Pegula because they own both franchises, but that wouldn’t necessarily be fair. Yes, they signed off on contracts when Kromer and O’Reilly came aboard. But they leave personnel decisions to others in charge in their respective organizations. They should demand answers from others, starting with Ryan and Murray.

To be clear, Buffalo has hardly cornered the sports market on arrests. You can hardly get through a day without some athlete being charged with a crime. Nuggets guard Ty Lawson was picked up Tuesday on suspicion of driving under the influence, the second time since January he was charged with the same offense.

Dude, call a cab.

Here’s hoping for Buffalo’s sake that the unrelated incidents with Kromer and O’Reilly were coincidence and not a pattern. Still, it looks dubious. You can’t help but wonder if both franchises are so desperate that they would take anyone, regardless of record, to help them win. It appears to be particularly true with the Bills.

The Bills looked past Richie Incognito’s transgressions and concentrated on how he could help their team. They kept Marcell Dareus after he ran into legal problems partly because he was a great defensive tackle. They must have figured Kromer was worth hiring even though he caused a major controversy in Chicago.

Allow me to repeat the question: How much does character matter? Allow me to repeat the answer: It depends on your criteria.

Perhaps my perspective has changed with age, but character seemed more important years ago than it does now. A personal connection existed between players and fans before social media and fantasy leagues took over. Younger fans today tend to care little about athletes as citizens and mostly about their production.

In other words, they’re mutually exclusive.

Society has placed so much emphasis on winning, frequently at all costs, that players aren’t often viewed as people. They’re assets. An older generation would be disgusted with the person charged with a crime. These days, it seems all anyone wants to know is whether the offense was egregious enough to keep a guy out of a game.

Count me among many who have been conflicted. Sometimes, it’s hard to decipher one crime from the next. A few days ago, after writing that Kromer should be fired, I was asked by a few people if that also meant O’Reilly and Dareus should have been sent on their way after they were arrested.

How do you differentiate?

The short answer is that people in their 20s, even though they’re adults, are prone to making poor decisions. There would have been no argument from me if Dareus, and now O’Reilly, were given the heave-ho. But it also wouldn’t have mattered to me if they were given another opportunity.

Kromer is a 48-year-old coach. He’s 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, while the kid he was charged with punching was 30-plus years younger and reportedly 5-8 and 140 pounds. Regardless, Kromer should have properly handled the situation or walked away. Apparently, the Bills agreed.

The legal process will take its course. At the very least, Kromer and O’Reilly should be punished for disrupting our peace. Bills training camp opens July 31. Hockey season will be here soon enough. It’s summer in Buffalo. Enjoy it while you can.


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