BEREA: Since he was drafted seventh overall in 2010, Browns cornerback Joe Haden has followed in the footsteps of Josh Cribbs in trying to turn himself into the king of Cleveland.
Haden has attended Cavaliers games wearing a fuzzy Anderson Varejao wig and once sported a painted-on Baron Davis beard. He came to an Indians game dressed as reliever Tony Sipp. He bought lunch for Twitter friends at Sushi Rock. Wherever he goes, he signs autographs and poses for pictures that are splashed all over the Internet.
He’s taken a page from receiver/returner Cribbs’ book and went the former Kent State quarterback one better, at least when it comes to costumes. Haden’s actions look admirable — a player with no previous ties to Northeast Ohio embracing all the area has to offer.
But in ingesting a substance banned by the NFL that resulted in a four-game league suspension he began serving Monday, Haden let down his coaches, teammates and fans. He failed to recognize the higher standard he’s held to because of his status as a first-round draft choice and the defense’s best player.
He lost sight of what it means to be a professional.
His misstep came with Adderall, according to ESPN Cleveland. Yet Haden has never said he has attention deficit disorder and refused to answer when asked if he had a prescription for the amphetamine. On Monday, the aforementioned radio station discussed the rumor that Haden used the drug to stay awake during an offseason trip to Las Vegas.
Whatever the reason Haden broke the rules, the suspension might be just the wake-up call he needs.
That’s not just because it will cost him four game checks totaling $1.356 million, and according to Yahoo! Sports could jeopardize escalators in his contract worth $7.85 million more.
Just 23 years old, Haden seemed to be letting his money and the trappings of celebrity go to his head. He lives downtown and is often seen out partying.
He continues to indulge his passion for fancy cars. The web site celebritycarsblog.com said Haden owns a Lamborghini Murcielago, a Rolls Royce, a Bentley Continental, a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, a BMW X6 and a Range Rover. This spring, he was spotted giving teammate Greg Little a ride in a vintage convertible.
“He’s a flashy guy,” Browns seven-year veteran linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “Hopefully he’ll correct that issue with the cars one of these days. Get rid of ’em.”
Jackson isn’t the only teammate trying to keep Haden from making big mistakes in his career’s infancy. Cornerback Sheldon Brown, an 11-year veteran, and Cribbs said they have had talks with Haden, Brown saying his started during Haden’s rookie year. Cribbs said he once talked to Haden about spending money.
“He’s changed drastically from Day One to now,” Cribbs said. “He has a girl. He’s honing in on his values. It seems like he had a lot of fun, now he’s starting to bring it in.”
Jackson said the first lesson for Haden — and others in the league — is to check out anything they are considering putting in their bodies. He did that early in his career, phoning the league office about a substance not on the banned list and was advised not to take it. Jackson listened.
Jackson said Haden showed remorse, going around the locker room after Sunday’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles and apologizing to some players, because he knew his suspension would be announced soon.
He will miss games against the Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. If the Browns get off to a poor start, he will share in the blame. He was drafted to cover the likes of the Bengals’ A.J. Green and the Ravens’ Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin.
“He’s feeling bad about the situation,” Jackson said of Haden. “If he’d known the outcome, he wouldn’t have done it.”
But that excuse might not fly with everyone. NFL players know the list of banned substances changes yearly. They know they’ll be randomly tested. They attend rookie symposiums and hear tales of misfortune from those who came before.
Haden’s teammates still seem to believe in him. Not a sliver of doubt escaped their mouths Wednesday. But they can’t be his watch-Dawgs forever.
“He’s not a high-risk bubble guy. I know he’s going to end up going down the right path,’’ Cribbs said, even as he admitted the suspension will be “an eye-opener.”
“Sometimes we all get caught up in situations we can’t control,” Brown said. “It doesn’t define him as a person or a man. He’s still a heck of a teammate. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He plays his heart out every time he’s there, and he’s actually taught me some things. I wish him the best.
“This is just an adverse situation that he’ll overcome and he’ll be a better man.”
Cribbs knows the kind of rush Haden gets from being the toast of the town because he likes it, too. Cribbs said mingling with fans pumps him up and gives him motivation.
But a balance must be struck and professional responsibilities respected, even for the king of Cleveland.
“I’ll be happy to pass it on to him,” Cribbs said of the honorary title. “I’ll be leaving it in the right hands.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.