CINCINNATI – Like every NFL organization, the Bengals have dispatched team officials to Indianapolis for this year’s NFL combine to evaluate the top prospects for April’s draft. But the franchise still looking to break through for its first Super Bowl title is also going where people want to break out: The Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, the state of Ohio’s only supermax prison.
“The NFL is getting more competitive all the time and you have to always be creative and look for new ways and new places to uncover players other teams may not be considering,” says Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. “Football is an aggressive, violent game and we think it makes sense to go to where we can find the most violent and aggressive people. I don’t need some soft kid who studied humanities at Stanford. I want a guy stabbed a human in the neck. I want that kind of mentality on the field.”
The Bengals have a long history of drafting, acquiring and employing players who have been arrested or have criminal backgrounds, but the team’s plans to host a combine specifically for convicted felons is a first.
“I think it’s time for NFL teams to stop dancing around the issue of players with some background … quote-unquote … problems,” said Lewis. “If they’re good at football, we’ll take them. Let’s not be cute about it. Teams want to win. Fans want to win. If I can find four defensive linemen who literally want to murder the opposing quarterback, I’m going to do that. I’d be crazy not to.”
One issue the Bengals could find is that some of the prospects that interest them are on death row or not eligible for parole. But Lewis doesn’t think that will be a problem.
“Look, these guys have paid at least some debt to society if they’ve spent even one day in prison, right?” he said. “And wouldn’t it be better to have them out, contributing to the city on the football field, making millions of dollars and paying taxes? Judges have to see that point of view if they’re reasonable. They have to let these men reclaim dignity in their lives with an appearance in a wildcard game.”