In May of 2005, two notable events in Vikings history occurred: the Wilf family was approved as the franchise’s new ownership group … and running back Onterrio Smith was detained at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport with a Whizzinator — a kit designed to beat drug tests. That transgression by Smith would prove to be a footnote in the organization’s 2005 off-field embarrassment story after several players had a memorable party on Lake Minnetonka during the bye week in October.
A month later in November, Zygi Wilf distributed a new 77-page “code of conduct” to Vikings players, coaches and others related to the team. It was in direct response to what had happened in 2005 but also to the Vikings’ reputation for off-field transgressions that went further back in time.
Kevin Warren, now the Vikings’ chief operating officer, was the team attorney at the time. He was quoted as saying of the code of conduct: “It was done so that the Wilfs can continually define the character of the organization, and to make it very clear to all employees that there is a certain standard that ownership abides by and then expects [everyone else] to abide by.” He also said: “If you go out and do something that you would not want to do in front of your spouse, your parents or your kids, and it becomes public, there [are] going to be some ramifications.”
In a cover letter describing the code of conduct, Zygi and Mark Wilf called it “a level of ethical and professional conduct well above the minimum required by law.”
Head coach Mike Tice, who was in charge during a lot of that tumultuous era (and in fact had his own ticket scalping scandal in 2005), was fired right after the season ended despite the team’s 9-7 record. Brad Childress was brought in, and the Vikings worked to rehabilitate their image.
Fast-forward nearly 12 years. The Wilfs are still the owners, and presumably had final authority over whether the Vikings should sign troubled wide receiver Michael Floyd a couple weeks after drafting Dalvin Cook.
This is not an attempt to suggest the Vikings have abandoned their code of conduct. Rather, it’s an occasion to note that getting tough on transgressions — a favorite move in the playbook of organizations trying to appeal to fans — is eventually going to run up squarely against another popular sports story: the notion of redemption after past transgressions.
Vikings history is littered with examples of players who made good on second chances and/or leaps of faith. Randy Moss fell in the draft because of character questions. Everson Griffen’s early career was littered with off-field problems. And maybe most notable in Vikings lore: Cris Carter was plucked off the waiver wire from the Eagles for $100 after a less-than-perfect start to his NFL career.
Floyd’s transgressions, of course, are more fresh. He was arrested in December after he fell asleep in his vehicle. His blood alcohol level was .217, nearly three times the legal limit. The Vikings are saying Floyd has learned from it, but this was his second offense after also having a drunk driving arrest during his junior year at Notre Dame.
Carter on Wednesday tweeted in support of Floyd, saying “I remember ppl doubting me on/off the field, a lot like Michael Floyd. This turnaround can happen again and we believe in you. Welcome home.”
Floyd, the former Cretin-Derham Hall star, probably wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t been arrested in December, since that prompted the Cardinals to cut him. He also wouldn’t be here if the Vikings didn’t think he could help a thin wide receiver group. His second chance (third, really) is predicated on talent and the hope of personal redemption, just as it was with Adrian Peterson a few years ago. The order of importance is for the skeptics and optimists to sort out.
The Vikings have certainly cut ties with players in the last dozen years who ran afoul of team rules or worse, so Warren’s statement about “ramifications” so many years ago isn’t hollow. But it was always going to be at odds with inevitable decisions about second chances.
And as long as there are stories like Carter’s — he went on to catch 1,004 of his 1,101 career passes with the Vikings in a Hall of Fame career — there will be signings like Floyd.
We’ll see where this story goes from here.