NFL teams take extra steps to make sure their players are well-protected

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 12, 2010; 12:08 AM

When New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck heads out for an evening in Manhattan, he typically reclines in the back of a leather-seated Cadillac Escalade or Mercedes Sprinter van, watching DirecTV or sipping a beverage. When he reaches his destination, he will wait until his driver, an off-duty or former police officer, checks out the premises, making sure the environment is safe and trouble-free.

Only then will Tuck venture inside.

Dressed to blend in with the crowd, the security officer will stay nearby until Tuck is ready to leave. He will quickly intervene should Tuck encounter an unruly fan or group of drunks.

"He kind of stands off to the side and keeps an eye on things," Tuck said. "As an athlete, if you are out by yourself, you never know what might happen. He is a middleman for all of the stuff you don't want to be a part of."

Concerned about allowing their highly paid, high-profile employees to wander unprotected among an often opportunistic public, the Giants and other professional sports teams have recently taken the increasingly popular concept of team-subsidized driving services a step further. They are seeking out companies that provide not only transportation to prevent impaired driving but also bodyguards with law enforcement credentials to ensure incident-free nights on the town.

The services are cost-effective for teams, which face league fines that can total hundreds of thousands of dollars if they have more than one player suspended in a season. The security personnel sign confidentiality agreements that bar them from reporting players' behavior to their teams or outsiders. But unlike personal bodyguards, they are trained to stand up to players rather than take orders from them.

Negative headlines

The efforts are partly a reaction to the headline-grabbing misdeeds of players such as Ben Roethlisberger, Donte Stallworth, Braylon Edwards and dozens of others.

"Our guys head off problems," said John Scutellaro, who co-founded Player Protect of East Rutherford, N.J., in 2007 with former Giants running back Rodney Hampton. "There have been many occasions [when] the player doesn't even know anything happened. And he doesn't need to know."

"Times have changed," added Charles Way, a Giants running back from 1995 to 1999 who is now the team's director of player programs. . . You have to realize now, because of social media, everyone's a reporter. . .This provides that extra level of security."

The challenge is getting players to utilize such services, whether they include bodyguards or merely on-call drivers. The New York Jets recently signed a contract with Player Protect, the same security company the Giants employ, and decided to cover all costs so their players wouldn't have to pay a dime. Yet a little more than two weeks ago, Edwards, a Jets wide receiver, was charged with drunken driving after leaving a nightclub in Manhattan in his own Range Rover.

"It still boils down to whether the player uses it or not," Way said. "We can do everything in our power to prevent the worst from happening, but unless a player uses the resources he has, you don't know what will happen."

The nightmarish public relations problem of wee-hours altercations, intoxicated driving charges and arrests of players has vexed the NFL for years. Since Commissioner Roger Goodell took over in 2006 and immediately tightened the league's player conduct policy, the number of player suspensions has soared.

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