Gil LeBreton

Public, NFL were too quick to pass judgment on Collins

La’el Collins had been a certain first-round draft pick out of LSU before unfortunate circumstances detoured his path.
La’el Collins had been a certain first-round draft pick out of LSU before unfortunate circumstances detoured his path. AP

You probably thought La’el Collins was guilty.

Shame on you.

But that’s the way a lot of people think these days. They believe you’re guilty, sometimes even after you’re proven innocent. They would rather endorse a provocative storyline than acknowledge the boring facts.

One day La’el Collins was being compared to the best offensive linemen in the coming NFL Draft. The next day there were knee-jerk cynics comparing him to Aaron Hernandez.

But as Collins, seated next to his mother Thursday, said, “I believe God has a plan for everything, and his plan for me was just different.”

Knowing what we know of Jerry Jones and the public’s fascination with the football franchise he owns, it is not surprising that offensive lineman Collins signed a free agent contract Thursday with the Dallas Cowboys.

Stars, indeed, seemed to still be dancing in Collins’ eyes as he sat at his introductory press conference.

“I chose to wear this star, because I feel like I’m a star,” Collins said. “My family’s a star. And we will represent it very well.”

What is more surprising to his friends at LSU and the media folks in Baton Rouge is that Collins’ name became involved in the story in the first place. A one-time girlfriend of La’el had been shot and killed at her apartment. Police admitted that they wanted to question the football player, but stressed that he wasn’t a suspect.

Yet, NFL minds raced, the Hernandez case undoubtedly fresh in their minds. Collins had been a certain first-round NFL draft pick and, instead, went undrafted.

A week after Brittney Mills, 29, was found dead, her newborn son Brenton passed away Friday. Collins met with Baton Rouge police Monday, and a paternity test revealed he was not the baby’s father.

“Two lives were lost,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “It’s tragic.

“One of the people who knew the mother was put in harm’s way, and done so in a manner that did not reflect good judgment and a long view of the issue.”

A few hours later, Collins was a Dallas Cowboy.

“Our greatest moments are ahead of us,” Collins assured in an emotional half-hour press conference.

The guy you saw and heard at Valley Ranch, I’ve been told, is the same La’el Collins that they knew for four years at LSU. A quiet and earnest kid. The kind of grounded young man who would return for his senior season, because he knew it was the right thing to do.

Yet, several in the national media seemed quick to lump Collins on Thursday into the Cowboys’ current lot of troubled souls. Jones, after all, signed domestic abuser Greg Hardy and drafted drug test failer Randy Gregory.

The same kind of distorted media thinking led Collins to go undrafted.

It stunned me that somebody, anybody, didn’t select Collins last weekend in, at the least, the seventh and final NFL round. Since when is spending a No. 7 pick for a chance at a future Pro Bowl lineman considered a wasted draft choice?

Rex Ryan of the Buffalo Bills flew to Baton Rouge on Monday to have dinner with Collins. Miami sent a contingent of LSU-based Dolphins to try to recruit him. The Super Bowl champion Patriots also were interested.

But he chose the Cowboys, saying he wanted to be part of “something great.”

Three new players. Three, for all other intents and purposes, first-round draft picks.

If there is a lesson here, it is a simple one:

Stop assuming the worst in people.

As La’el Collins said Thursday, their best days may be ahead of them.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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