CINCINNATI — Bengals owner Mike Brown wanted to do another “Hard Knocks” training camp series with HBO because he thinks it will change his franchise’s image as a place where troubled players are welcomed.
Things are much different now, Brown said Tuesday at the team’s annual preseason luncheon.
“We have a different team now than we had a few years ago,” Brown said. “We want the public to see them. We think they’re good people. We think the public will be taken by them, will like them. It gives us a boost.”
When the Bengals agreed to do “Hard Knocks” for the first time in 2009, Brown hoped that troubled receiver Chris Henry — arrested five times — would get a lot of air time so fans could see beyond his criminal record. Then, Brown had a reputation for drafting and signing troubled players. Ten different Bengals players had been arrested during a 14-month span.
The club has been more careful in the last few years. The only currently player on a court docket is cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones, scheduled for trial Aug. 19 on an assault charge.
At one point during the run of arrests, Brown referred to himself as a “redeemer.” He said he’s now taking an approach more like his father, franchise founder Paul Brown, who didn’t put up with bad conduct.
“The thing I do regret is how it came to make us, or put on us an image that I don’t think was ever anything but a very small part of what we were and sometimes not a part at all,” Brown said. “But if you want to blame somebody for it, blame me.
“In recent years, I’ve tried to go the other way. I’ve just thought it’s too heavy a price to pay and we were going to go back to square one and bring in here guys that were sound people.”
He recognized that the team still has a way to go to shed its reputation. That’s part of why he signed on for another “Hard Knocks” series.
“It takes time to get a unit of guys that are solid people, and it takes longer than that to make the public see you in that light,” he said.
Brown also touched on other topics.
He disagreed with the league’s move to enhance the fan experience at stadiums. The NFL wants teams to install cameras in locker rooms so video can be shown to fans in the stadium.
“I was one of those in there arguing for the good old days,” Brown said. “We’re just in a time of change. This is good for the NFL.”
Brown praised the league’s work to reduce concussions, even though he doubts that brain injuries lead to long-term issues. Brown, who played quarterback in high school and at Dartmouth, said he had at least three significant concussions as an athlete.
“Yeah, can’t you tell?” he joked.
About 4,200 former NFL players have sued the league, contending their concussions have led to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions. Last week, attorneys sued the NCAA over its handling of concussions, hoping a judge will allow them to pursue a class action representing thousands of players.
Sports leagues have changed their handling of concussions in recent years. Brown supports the safety measures but isn’t convinced there’s a link between concussions and long-term problems.
“The only point I’m trying to make is that this sort of thing was part of sports in my era,” Brown said. “To some degree, it still is. Whether the alarm that is up and about today is deserved is, in my mind, a good thing because it makes us play it safe. But I’m not convinced that anybody really knows what concussions bring, what they mean later in life if anything.
“It’s not only not proven, it’s merely speculation that this is something that creates some form of dementia late in life. Our statistics — the ones I’ve seen anyway — don’t show that. Yet there’s a lot of talk. And I’ll leave it at that.”
During the 2009 training camp aired on “Hard Knocks,” tight end Ben Utecht suffered a severe concussion during practice and was taken to a hospital by ambulance. The club put him on an injury list and released him during the season, contending the brain injury had healed. The players’ association filed a grievance, saying Utecht wasn’t sufficiently tested to see if he had fully recovered when he was released.
An arbitrator ruled in Utecht’s favor this month, ending one of the longest grievances in NFL history. Utecht was awarded the rest of his salary for the season.
“When we have issues, we try to resolve them through arbitration and that’s better than any alternative that is available to us,” Brown said. “And yet you sometimes think you have a case where you should win and you don’t win.”