Impulse control

Why do people do stupid things? When a bad behavior is rewarded with a bad result, why does the behavior persist? Are people inclined to suffer?

I had two talented men in mind when I wrote that. Both are NFL players blessed with physical skills that 99% of the world envy. They are flawed men.

The first is Onterrio Smith. When Smith couldn’t pass a drug test at the University of Tennessee the school withdrew his scholarship. Being an athletically gifted man, Smith got a second chance and starred at the University of Oregon. The Minnesota Vikings made him a fourth-round draft selection. Opportunity beckoned in 2004 when starting running back Michael Bennett was injured. All Smith had to do was keep things together and he was a starting running back for an NFL franchise. That promises untold riches. Smith failed a drug test and earned a four-game suspension.

Most NFL and sports fans know about Smith’s most recent issues. Why did Smith decide to go to such elaborate means to elude a positive drug test? Naturally he didn’t want to get caught. He never thought that the easier thing to do would be to quit using banned substances.

Koren Robinson entered 2004 on the verge of stardom. The 24-year-old averaged more than 70 receptions a year in the past two seasons. One more such season would surely lead Robinson to a contract extension worth eight figures. Robinson missed six games last year, four for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and two from the team for the same violation. Robinson was in a league-sponsored alcohol-abuse rehabilitation program and seemed to be doing OK.

Earlier this month, Robinson’s demons got the better of him. Maybe he heard the voices telling him that he wasn’t going to amount to his tremendous promise. In any case, he faces the same one-year suspension that Smith earned.

What’s wrong with these guys? They’re just weaker than their impulses. And in both cases it cost them lots of money and possibly a career.

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