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Who's to Blame for the Sad Misdirection of Eddie Griffin?

8/22/2007

Blaming is such a fruitless sport. I mean -- there's no victory there.

But one of the most gifted basketball players of the last decade is dead at 25. Charred beyond recognition by a fire that started burning, it seems, just about the moment he was born.

In a moment like this, you can't help but ask "Whose fault is this?" I'm sure we all have our ideas. I'm sure many of you know a lot more about addiction, and how it functions, than I do. And it's entirely possible that there have always been and always will be sad stories like this.

Maybe no one is to blame. Maybe there is no lesson here.

But as someone who would love to see Eddie Griffin be the last human to live such a short, misdirected life of self-inflicted tragedy, you can't help but wonder about how it might have been better.

Can you blame the people he trusted -- whoever they were? Most multimillionaire athletes have people who make money off them. You know the crew: agents, advisers, posses. These people have a financial disincentive to be the bearer of bad news. To stage an intervention. To nag, poke, cajole. To think long-term. To talk discipline and self respect. To get the guy out of bed first thing in the morning, and stick him in bed before too late at night. You just don't want to be the one to end the party, you know? What could get you kicked off the gravy train faster?

J.A. Adande's excellent ESPN column on the short life of Eddie Griffin quotes Houston Rockets vice president of basketball operations and athletic trainer Keith Jones, who sounds like someone who cared a lot about Eddie Griffin. He is not happy about the people Eddie Griffin trusted.

"I can't say it shocks me," Jones said. "It's still really sad and really tragic. And Eddie was a good guy. He had a good heart. He made some bad decisions on a lot of things. I think he had people that were guiding him, that he thought were guiding him, that didn't have his best interests in heart."

Can you blame everyone who ever helped Eddie Griffin get a free pass for the reckless and terrible things he did? The people on that list are many, and include almost every college and NBA team he played for. These stories came around with a certain regularity: He was tossed from his high school team. He slugged a teammate in the eye in college. There was an incident at his home in Houston where a woman was beaten and reportedly shot at. At a hotel in New Jersey, he scared guests by joining a wedding celebration uninvited, and then pounding on the door of the bride and groom's room late at night. There was another assault after that, something involving a late night at a gas station. On top of all that was the car accident in Minnesota that gained him true notoriety.

Although I'm certain plenty of team employees, at nearly every stage, tried hard to do the right thing -- Kevin McHale gets a lot of praise for that, among others -- in public Griffin never lacked for people willing to downplay his troubles to the media and ticket-purchasing public.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo sports remembers an exception:

Three weeks until graduation at Roman Catholic in Philadelphia and the No. 1 high school player in America had flipped out in a lunch room fist fight. The principal, Rev. Paul Brant, expelled him, assigning Griffin a home tutor for his final assignments.

"What if we hadn't done it?" Father Brant told me then. "That was my biggest concern. If we hadn't let him know he had to take responsibility for his actions, later in life when he became a pro athlete, what would happen when he was faced with circumstances where he had to be accountable?"

Of course, that kind of approach doesn't always work, and didn't here. But sometimes it does. Ask Micheal Ray Richardson, who credits David Stern with saving his life by kicking him out of the NBA when his addictions could not be managed any other way.

Can you blame us, a little? Bloggers, journalists, and basketball fans? Griffin's blatant lack of good judgment -- powerful signals that he was on the wrong track -- were so preposterous as to be hilarious. To be honest, here in the blogosphere, Eddie Griffin was famous for one thing and one thing only: wrecking his car allegedly while masturbating and watching a pornographic DVD. Oh, how we laughed at that one. We sports bloggers and journalists are obsessed with the sport and the men who play it, but have a hard time putting into context the endless self-centered things some of those men do. This one took the cake.

There are so many more people who might be blamed. Might there have been a doctor, a counselor, a therapist, a judge, or a law enforcement officer who could have handled things better? What about his family and friends? Here's where the blame game gets insane -- the hypotheticals can drive you nuts.

And in the end, you know who's getting the lion's share of the blame in this case, anyway: Eddie Griffin. This is what the commenter Solytaire wrote on the website of Minnesota based Rake:

This may sound selfish but, I'm kinda pissed at this guy. I was rooting for him so hard. For some reason, I just wanted this guy to make it, despite his troubles. I dont usually pull for those who have off-court or off-field troubles. But I remember walking by him at a nightclub in Houston a couple of years ago. He was, as was I, alone, though among the people. But he understandably made no effort to mingle. [His death] is such a disappointment to me. Undoubtedly, he squandered all of his chances to change his behavior. But oh well, he lived his life the way he wanted, I suppose; not the way his fans wanted him to. RIP man.