Tank's the only party who needs to be embarrassed

Phil Arvia

Now? Now Jerry Angelo is embarrassed? Now?

This is not the time for the Bears to be embarrassed. As an organization, they have spent the past several months behaving as honorably as they possibly could, visiting Tank Johnson in jail, offering him support, being the family they said they would be.

The franchise and its employees -- save Johnson, who on Monday became a former employee -- have done nothing to be embarrassed about. They did the right thing and gave Johnson the chance to do the same.

It is Johnson who failed.

The words attributed to Lovie Smith in the Bears' statement Monday about Johnson's departure got it exactly right.

"A lot of people within our organization gave extra time and energy to support Tank -- players, coaches and our front office," Smith said. "We did our best to establish an environment for him to move forward. Ultimately Tank needed to live up to his side of the deal."

Johnson did not.

After finishing a workout in Lake Forest on Wednesday afternoon, Johnson flew to his home in Arizona. By 3:30 a.m. Friday, he ran afoul of the law, being pulled over for speeding and suspicion of driving while impaired "to the slightest degree."

The timing made it particularly easy for indignation to roll in from all fronts. On the radio, fans and commentators alike claimed the Bears were made to look "foolish," some deciding the organization should feel "conned" in addition to embarrassed.

Angelo joined in, the Bears' general manager saying, "We are upset and embarrassed by Tank's actions last week. He compromised the credibility of our organization."

Giving a man a chance when it is neither convenient nor out of self-interest does not compromise the Bears' credibility but enhances it. Rather, that credibility was compromised last December, in the aftermath of a raid on Johnson's home.

Guns and drugs were found there. Johnson was already on probation for a gun charge the previous year.

At the time, the Bears were 11-2 and trying to sew up home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Bears declared Johnson inactive for the next game and publicly warned him to behave, and within 12 hours of that warning, Johnson would end up witnessing the murder of his friend James Posey in a nightclub.

The Bears' response? A one-game suspension on top of the one-game benching.

Before the additional suspension, I wrote it would be a waste, "to let this moment and Posey's life pass without sending the message that participating in games matters less than participating, with purpose and dignity, in society."

I suggested the Bears let Johnson absorb that message at home, for the remainder of the season and the playoffs. Doing so would have proved the Bears' stated motive of helping a man sort out his life by demonstrating they were willing to compromise their own playoff chances to do so.

The Bears chose a path that suggested they were most interested in Johnson's ability to help them win football games. If they later demonstrated otherwise, they nonetheless missed a prime opportunity to indelibly delineate a franchise's priorities.

Their second chance to get it right came not with Monday's decision, but with all those inconvenient, probably uncomfortable visits to Johnson while he sat last spring in Cook County Jail. Johnson's second chance -- or was it his third? -- ended when the cops pulled him over Friday morning.

He'll suffer the consequences.

Still, here's hoping Johnson will continue to strive to be the man he said he wants to become. His release by the Bears need be nothing more than a particularly painful lesson, should Johnson choose not to curse his luck and instead be grateful that his alleged impairment merely cost him a job and not somebody else's life.

There was a thought circulating Monday that Johnson would become someone else's problem now, but whenever problems become merely part of Johnson's past, part of that victory will belong to the Bears.

Contact Phil Arvia at Read his blog at