A dozen years ago, Eugene Robinson wasn’t ready to talk about it.
This year, he was.
Robinson, the 16-year NFL veteran who is now the Carolina Panthers’ radio analyst, recently told the team’s players in what Robinson called “painful, heartbreaking” detail about his arrest for soliciting sex from an undercover police officer on the eve of a Super Bowl 17 years ago.
And at first, Robinson was going to leave it at that. When The Observer’s Joseph Person got wind of the story of the speech on Monday, Robinson confirmed the speech but didn’t want to talk about its particulars.
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On Tuesday, though – after coach Ron Rivera and a number of players said Robinson’s willingness to talk about an embarrassing subject had been very powerful to them – Robinson changed his mind.
Robinson said the speech – which he gave on Sunday in Charlotte shortly before the Panthers left for California – had actually been his idea. He said that God had “laid it on my heart” several months ago when he first thought the Panthers could make the Super Bowl. He asked Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman if he could tell his cautionary tale to the team, and they said absolutely. So he did.
Said Robinson: “It was just to tell these guys, ‘Don’t mess this up, man!’ I can be a living example: Don’t mess this up.”
It was just to tell these guys, 'Don't mess this up, man!' I can be a living example: Don't mess this up.
Eugene Robinson on what he told the Panthers about his Super Bowl arrest in 1999
What did he tell them about the arrest?
“I told them I cried all night,” Robinson said. “Dude, I cried all night. ... How did I get way over here when I was way over here? Well, it is easy to lose your way when you’re selfish, and you’re thinking about yourself, and that’s what I did.”
Robinson still played for the Atlanta Falcons in that Super Bowl in 1999, but he played badly. He allowed an 80-yard touchdown pass in a 34-19 loss to Denver. The irony of his situation wasn’t lost on anyone, as Robinson had accepted a national award for exhibiting outstanding moral character only hours before his arrest for offering a woman he thought was a prostitute $40 for sex.
“To hear the word ‘solicitation’ is still painful for me,” Robinson said. “And I’ve got to call it what it is. I don’t try to sugarcoat it. ... Look man, it’s called solicitation and that’s what it was. ... And so for me as painful as it is and as heartbreaking as it is and all that stuff. ... I wanted my guys to know because I love this team. It was: ‘You’ve got a great opportunity. Go ahead and seize the moment and don’t – in this respect – be like me.’”
‘It still hurts him’
Said Panthers receiver Philly Brown of Robinson’s speech: “He’s an emotional guy. He’s a guy that is a living example of somebody that did something wrong so long ago and it still hurts him to this day.”
Robinson, 52, has been a high school coach at Charlotte Christian since 2001 – he once coached Steph Curry in track – and also works in local TV. He has been the Panthers’ radio analyst since the 2002 season. Robinson also has remained married to the same woman for the past 30 years, he said.
Robinson, who won a Super Bowl ring in 1996 with Green Bay, played only the final one of his 16 seasons for Carolina. But he was also the team’s radio analyst a dozen years ago when Carolina made the Super Bowl for the first time.
Robinson said he didn’t address the team about the incident then because “I wasn’t ready.” (He did do a few interviews with the media about it during that Super Bowl).
Since then, however, Robinson has talked about it with numerous church groups about his error and said he hopes that Panthers players could learn from his mistake.
I think it was outstanding. I think it was one of the bravest things I've seen a guy do.
Ron Rivera on Eugene Robinson’s speech to the team
‘That was criminal’
“If a team beats you, that’s different,” Robinson said. “But if you beat yourself, that’s criminal. I allowed myself to beat myself, and to beat the team, and that was criminal.”
Rivera said Tuesday that Robinson gave a great talk.
“I think it was outstanding,” Rivera said. “I think it was one of the bravest things I’ve seen a guy do. When he got done, our guys gave him an ovation. For him to step up and relive that and to tell the guys he was wrong, he forgot the reason they (the Falcons) were there. That’s a huge message. I think that’s a great message.”
I think so too.