Mike Vandermause column: Jolly deserves second chance with Packers

Jun. 19, 2012

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Suspended Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Johnny Jolly cries as he testifies in court in Houston on Nov. 17, 2011. He was sentenced to six years in prison for violating the terms of his probation on a drug charge. He was charged with possession of a compound containing codeine and tampering with evidence after a traffic stop in October. It was his third drug arrest in three years. / File/AP


Suspended Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Johnny Jolly has paid his debt to society and to the National Football League, and the time has come to let him play.

Jolly has wasted two years of his football career either sitting in jail or battling personal demons related to codeine addiction.

Jolly has no one to blame but himself for hooking up with the wrong crowd, violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and getting suspended indefinitely in 2010.

But the man could desperately use a break and another chance.

The process started Tuesday when Jolly applied to the NFL for reinstatement. The league owes it to Jolly to act swiftly and give him back his playing privileges.

Then it’s up to the Packers to welcome Jolly back with open arms and allow him every opportunity to win a spot on the roster this season.

There are no good reasons to keep Jolly from attempting to earn a living in the NFL.

He has paid a heavy price for his transgressions. He lost millions of dollars in salary over the past two years. He blew a chance to be part of the Packers’ 2010 Super Bowl championship team. He forfeited his dignity and pride while spending time behind bars.

For anyone skeptical of Jolly’s commitment to stay clean and free of drugs, I ask simply: What more would you like him to do?

Jolly shouldn’t have to come crawling on his knees, begging for forgiveness and groveling for another chance. He has paid his dues and by all rights should be wearing a Packers uniform again when training camp begins July 26.

He more than anyone knows the stakes. His career and well-being are on the line. Jolly is painfully aware he can’t go anywhere near old friends that contributed to his downfall.

Jolly’s sincerity will be questioned, and rightfully so based on his track record, but he sure sounds like a changed man. So out of basic human decency and compassion, if nothing else, why not let him prove himself?

“It was very hard and painful being in jail,” Jolly said in an interview with Brad Biggs for The National Football Post website. “Being away from your family, it hurt me bad. Everyone looks up to you is like … it hurts them too. It’s so hard to adjust. But when I was in there I learned that I had to find out who my real friends was, to sit down and go over myself and examine myself and see who I really was.”

Packers general manager Ted Thompson has never seemed to worry about potential distractions in the past when signing players, so why should it be different with Jolly?

In 2006 Thompson took a chance when he signed receiver Koren Robinson, who had struggled with a drinking problem and run-ins with the law.

Thompson also didn’t hesitate to sign former New Orleans Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove in March, even with the NFL’s bounty scandal hanging over Hargrove’s head.

There are no guarantees Jolly can again become a solid starter with the Packers or any NFL team. His last down of football -- in the Packers’ playoff loss to Arizona following the 2009 season -- was almost 2½ years ago.

That’s a long time to spend away from the game for a 330-plus-pound bruiser, and Jolly has no doubt accumulated a lot of rust.

But Thompson has been searching all offseason for upgrades to his beleaguered defensive line, which struggled to mount a pass rush in 2011 and contributed to the Packers’ league-worst defense.

In an attempt to solve that glaring problem, Thompson signed Hargrove, Phillip Merling and Daniel Muir as free agents, and drafted Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels.

It makes perfect sense to throw Jolly into that competitive mix and see what he can do.

But this goes beyond the Packers filling a hole on their roster.

Jolly needs the Packers more than they need him, and he is simply asking for another chance. After all he’s put himself through, Jolly deserves it.

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.

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