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You can't always go home

Judging from the barely hidden distaste in their tone when they talk about him, the Miami Dolphins appear to want running back Ricky Williams back about as much as they want a raging, team-wide case of intestinal flu. That's understandable, in light of the way Williams abandoned the team just before the start of the season for reasons that have never been entirely clear -- although it seems that one of them was that he decided he enjoyed inhaling a good hit of marijuana more than absorbing a good hit from a linebacker.

Williams doesn't deserve the defense he received in this space a few weeks ago, because he has shown that he's not a free spirit who decided to follow his heart and take a different life path; he's a selfish, irresponsible guy who didn't want to face up to a drug suspension and was willing to leave his teammates, and a coach whose job was already in jeopardy, in the lurch. Even worse, Williams and his agent, Leigh Steinberg, insulted everyone's intelligence last week with the ridiculous press release in which they declared that he wanted to end his retirement because he had "rediscovered his passion for football." What Williams had really discovered was that he had to repay $8.5 million to the Dolphins because of his abrupt retirement, which was going to put a major crimp in his post-football partying plans.

So it's only natural for Williams' teammates to have a hard time finding it in their hearts to accept him as a teammate once again. The only question is why athletes seem to be so much more forgiving of other kinds of indiscretions. Why should Williams be such a pariah when players seem to have no problem welcoming back teammates who are guilty of far more serious offenses? The Dolphins struggle with the idea of playing with Williams again, but the Baltimore Ravens seem to have no problem with the thought of accepting running back Jamal Lewis back after Lewis pleaded guilty last week to a felony charge involving his role in a cocaine deal. The Ravens are so comfortable with having a felon on their team that linebacker Ray Lewis, who pleaded guilty to obstructing a murder investigation a few years ago, is not only accepted, he's the undisputed team leader.

There's no record of the St. Louis Rams players agonizing over whether to accept defensive lineman Leonard Little back after he killed a 47-year-old mother while driving drunk in 1998, or even when he was charged with another DUI last April (Little pleaded not guilty and the case is pending). Jason Kidd's teammates didn't find it against their moral convictions to play with Kidd after he was arrested for punching his wife three years ago (The court ordered Kidd to undergo counseling for six months). Reliever Frank Francisco of the Texas Rangers broke a woman's nose when he threw a chair into the stands last month, but his teammates haven't expressed any reluctance to welcome him back when his suspension is over next season.

But those players' offenses didn't directly affect their teammates, at least not nearly as severely as Williams' did. The reason that Williams is so unpopular with the Dolphins is that he undoubtedly took a few wins with him when he left. It seems that teammates can forgive crimes committed against the rest of society, but offenses against the ballclub are unpardonable sins. Williams would have a better chance of being welcomed back in the Miami locker room if he had driven drunk or hit his girlfriend or attacked a fan because, after all, at least he'd still be on the field, pulling his weight and helping his teammates, which, to many athletes, is the only thing that really matters. Ricky Williams may be an awfully self-centered fellow, but he's not the only one.

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