Shannon Hayes heard the news about the Wes Welker suspension.
He also heard the crashes and clinks of the new equipment in Millwood High School’s weight room.
What does the latter have to do with the former?
Hayes is the athletic director at Millwood, and earlier this year, the school received a grant from the Welker Foundation that, among other things, allowed it to add to the weight room. Every athlete at the school will use it at some point during the year. Every athlete will benefit from that grant.
“It puts us in a whole different league,” Hayes said of the additional funds.
The folks at Millwood aren’t the only ones in Oklahoma City who’ve become fans of Welker, on the cusp of his 11th season in the NFL. He gives lots of money here. He spends lots of time here. He does lots of good here.
The hometown boy has made his hometown proud.
Then on Tuesday, he got suspended by the NFL for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drugs policy — the wide receiver must sit out Denver’s first four games — and everyone in Oklahoma City is left trying to figure out how we’re supposed to look at Welker now. How do we wrap our heads around the good guy getting a black mark? How are we supposed to balance this first transgression with what we know of Welker?
The NFL doesn’t provide details when it suspends a player, but reports have indicated that Welker had amphetamines in his system. The Denver Post reported the amphetamine was Adderall, while Pro Football Talk reported that while attending the Kentucky Derby, Welker took Molly that had been cut with amphetamines.
Molly is the street name for MDMA, which is an active ingredient in Ecstasy. But Molly is rarely pure MDMA. It is most often cut by amphetamines, which could include Adderall.
Welker was adamant Tuesday that he never took anything knowingly, telling the Denver Post that he wondered if someone put something in one of his drinks at the Derby.
“I wouldn’t have any idea where to get a Molly or what a Molly is,” he said.
We want to believe that.
I’ll admit, I want to believe that.
But what if Welker had grown up in Kansas City or Cleveland or San Francisco? What if he wasn’t our guy and we were reading his denials in Oklahoma City?
We’d laugh and roll our eyes and say, “Just another athlete making an excuse.”
Listen, I don’t know what happened, if Welker knowingly took something that he should’nt have or if someone trying to be a wisenheimer got him suspended. But I know this — this suspension puts a cloud over Welker.
A massive, ominous thunderhead?
More of a stray, gray nimbostratus.
After all, this isn’t an arrest, isn’t Welker doing something that harms someone else. What’s more, this is very much out of character for him.
Welker has been a straight-and-narrow character, and that has only added to his feel-good story. The undersized guy who became a superstar at Heritage Hall. The lightly recruited receiver who became an All-American at Texas Tech. The undrafted free agent who became one of the most productive receivers the NFL has ever seen.
What’s more, Welker has been known as a guy who does things the right way, busting his butt and outworking his competition. That endeared the masses, whether he was in West Texas or New England, but here in hard-working, blue-collar-wearing Oklahoma City, it was particularly powerful.
Thing is, Welker has loved on Oklahoma City almost as much as fans here have adored him. He often wears a hat adorned with Bronco Drilling, an Edmond company now owned by Chesapeake. He regularly professes his love of the Thunder, even wearing Thunder cowboy boots while playing for the Patriots and living in Celtics-crazy Boston.
It’s been sweet.
A violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy sours that. Not entirely. But some. It has to. No two ways around that.
But for all that we don’t know about what got Welker into trouble, here’s what we do know: the cloud of his violation doesn’t overshadow all the good that he has done and will continue to do in Oklahoma City.
Not even close.
His foundation alone has given grants to 30 schools and groups around Oklahoma City over the better part of a decade. The money is given in an attempt to level the playing field for at-risk kids through sports, encouraging their full potential and exposing them to positive role models.
Capitol Hill, John Marshall, Millwood and Cleats for Kids, which provides equipment to low-income kids, received grants this year.
Combined total: $173,200.
Average grant: $43,300.
Just ask someone like Hayes at Millwood. The small independent district is a sports power, bringing home two or three state titles just about every year, but drawing from neighborhoods on the city’s northeast side, the school isn’t flush with funds.
“We have a lot of inner-city kids and low-income families that we deal with,” Hayes said, “so we don’t always have the money for athletics.”
With its Welker grant, Millwood not only bought that additional weight room equipment but also purchased a projector and screen so it could have a film room; water coolers that could be wheeled to and from practices and games; and nets to be placed behind the north end zone at the football stadium.
A deep ravine at that end of the field has been gobbling up footballs for years.
Millwood purchased some additional football helmets. It didn’t have enough to outfit all the kids who wanted to come out for the team before.
Who knows the impact that could have? A boy who now gets to play might be motivated to keep his grades up and stay in school. He might graduate and increase his chances of being a productive citizen.
Hypothetical, yes, but entirely possible, too.
There is no doubt that Welker’s drug suspension taints things. His legacy isn’t as pristine. His career isn’t as feel-good.
But in Oklahoma City, our well is deep where Welker is concerned. It took more than one good deed to fill it up, and it will take much more than one unsavory one to drain it.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.