The Atlanta Falcons knew there was a risk in drafting Prince Shembo. While at Notre Dame, he’d been investigated for sexual battery of a Saint Mary’s College freshman named Lizzy Seeberg, who 10 days after the alleged assault killed herself with an overdose of the antidepressant Effexor. Shembo was never charged with a crime or suspended by the Irish.
The Falcons decided Shembo was worth hiring. They made him the 139th player taken in the 2014 draft. On the day they chose him, general manager Thomas Dimitroff said: “We’re very, very aware of the seriousness of the incident … We used a lot of (investigative) resources at many levels. We’ve done our due diligence.”
On Friday, Shembo was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, which is a felony, in Gwinnett County. This was the Falcons’ response: They waived him.
There are a lot of ways to play yourself off an NFL team, but there’s none quicker than to be a Falcon and be accused of killing a dog. The end of the Michael Vick Era remains the most emotionally charged time in this franchise’s history, and given this franchise’s history that’s saying something.
Given the outcome, it’s tempting — almost irresistible — to say that the Falcons should have known better than to draft Shembo, but how exactly do you know such a thing? How do you look at a draft board on May 10, 2014, and foresee that, barely a year later, a guy will be charged with killing his ex-girlfriend’s Yorkie?
The Falcons insisted they did their homework and asked the right questions. Melinda Hennenberger, who wrote extensively on Seberg’s death, reported that Shembo was suspended by his high school for throwing a table at a teacher who’d taken his cell phone. Surely the Falcons had read that article. (If they hadn’t, their diligence was duly lacking.)
Truth to tell, it would have been easier not to draft Shembo — he was a fourth-rounder, and fourth-rounders aren’t locks to play an NFL down — and avoid the are-you-really-sure-about-this-guy questions. The Falcons liked what they’d heard and were willing to suffer the scrutiny. Now they’re suffering the consequences.
Life would be so much easier if we could see the future, but none of us can. The Falcons took a risk, and when it went wrong they did the only thing they could do: They dumped Prince Shembo.