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Friday, February 26, 2010

Can Maualuga erase the doubt? Only actions, time will tell

Sean Quincey/The Times-Standard

Go ahead and doubt Rey Maualuga.

Doubt him when he says he will learn from his mistakes. Doubt him when he says it will never happen again. Doubt him when he points at the camera while saying it all.

He deserves it.

And only through his actions and the passing of time will he begin to dissolve that doubt and receive the benefit of it. One day, perhaps, the Eureka High graduate can earn back the respect he values so deeply.

For Maualuga, that process began shortly after his Jan. 29 DUI arrest, even though local bloggers and even this newspaper did not recognize his efforts.

On Feb. 7, Super Bowl Sunday, Maualuga and two of his teammates on the Cincinnati Bengals, Domata Peko and Jon Fanene, traveled back to their home country of Samoa, where much of their family still lives. When they arrived, they presented American Samoa governor Togiola Tulafono with a $40,500 check for victims of the September tsunami that wreaked havoc on the small country of 68,000 people.

Maualuga also delivered to high school football players 700 pair of cleats from Under Armour, which sponsors him. He and his teammates brought 300 helmets and shoulder pads, and all of the equipment was divided between the six high schools in Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa.

Those contributions are significant in a place where two-thirds of the population lives beneath the poverty line, where it is not uncommon for houses to hold two and three families. One news story on Local 12 in Cincinnati said that the six high schools share one stadium and much of the teams' equipment is outdated.

Keep in mind, this trip was planned well in advance of his DUI and subsequent guilty plea on Feb. 2. It's hard to imagine that the the trip could have come at a better time.

Maualuga hadn't been to the island since he was 3, and while he was there, according to reports, he got to see his 21-year-old brother Rodney, who he hadn't seen since the 2006 funeral of their father. His father's brother picked him up at the airport, and Maualuga re-connected with much of his father's side of the family during the trip.

In the middle of it all, he saw first-hand the hundreds of kids and aspiring football players who look up to him when all of Samoana's 1,185 high school students packed the gym to hear the three players speak. By all accounts though, Maualuga did not relish in the hero's welcome he and his teammates received.

”Rey was hesitant. He felt Domata should speak,” Samoana High School coach Simon Mageo told “But I told him, 'With your credentials, don't think I'm going to let you come 8,000 miles and not speak to us.' It's like he was born and bred here. That's how we see him.”

Always one to speak with conviction, perhaps a trait he inherited from his late father Talatonu, who was a minister, it's hard not to buy into what Maualuga says. However, with this heartfelt trip in mind, and the attitude with which he went about his business since pleading guilty, his comments bear listening.

”I just want to say sorry for bringing humiliation and embarrasment to the team and especially myself,” Maualuga told Local 12. “I'm definitely getting help. I will learn from this. All this is a learning process. I'm taking positive steps to make sure that things do get better and I do get help. I will assure you (points to the camera) that I will make better and wiser decisions and something like that will never happen again.”

He was equally contrite a week earlier after his court date. Speaking in a solemn tone, Maualuga, after the judge said that the oft-troubled Bengals had become “very much a laughingstock across the community” told reporters he will bcome a better person.

The doubt is not erased, but this is a first step. His second step was entering the Betty Ford rehabilitation clinic in Rancho Mirage this month for a 30-day stay, which is not standard procedure in the NFL's Substance Abuse Program.

Make no mistake: There is no excuse for driving drunk. Maualuga, whose blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit at the time of arrest, was a danger to himself and others.

(Accoring to the Local 12 story, prosecutors said Maualuga was alone in the car, correcting initial police reports that said he was with two teenage girls.)

However, he has done nothing to duck responsibility for his actions, and is well aware of the doubt that surrounds him. This is after all, his second alcohol-related incident, the first being a Halloween 2005 fight during his freshman year at USC, and he knows that the public can only take so much.

”You learn that you're only given a certain number of chances,” he said in a 2008 USA Today story, adding that he wasn't sure what the true motivation was behind his nasty fight in 2005. “If you keep going back to the same things you were doing, it shows that you don't learn from anything. You're not a person that people can count on. It's all about respect, and you can lose that respect. People won't look up to you.”

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