Tell me it isn’t true about Ridley-Thomas

By T.J. Simers

It looks like I might have this all wrong and that bothers me that I could be that wrong about Mark Ridley-Thomas.

It’s not exactly a sports story but sports are how I came to know city councilman Ridley-Thomas. The NFL wanted back in Los Angeles years ago and possibly to the Coliseum, and that meant the NFL had to deal with the elected official and politician that Ridley-Thomas was.

And the NFL was scared of him.

He talked with a measure to his voice, refused to buckle to NFL intimidation and defended Los Angeles. Everything he did seemed so righteous.

But I read now he was indicted on federal corruption charges a year ago, and as bad as that can be, someone from USC pleaded guilty Monday for bribing Ridley-Thomas and that makes Ridley-Thomas look even more guilty before facing a November trial.

I don’t know all the scandal details, but am flabbergasted at what has become of him.

He was thrown off the city council.

That’s not the man I knew, but what does that say about the people we think we know.

I thought I knew Patrick Lynch, the Los Angeles Coliseum general manager, better than some of the folks on the LA Times staff. I certainly trusted him more.

But he eventually stood before a judge hoping to stay out of jail. He received three years of probation for his role in a Coliseum corruption scandal, and maybe it’s best not to have anything to do with the Coliseum.

Don’t get me started on Darryl Henley, the former UCLA-Rams’ cornerback who is currently serving a 31-year sentence for cocaine trafficking and attempting to murder a judge and witness.

He used to call me from jail so often, the prosecutors said they took a look at me to make sure I wasn’t somehow involved in his wrongdoings.

I was at his home the night before he was found guilty and hauled off to jail. I met Henley’s parents, who were ministers. I was in the jail visiting room the first time his baby walked and sitting behind glass Henley was not allowed to touch her.

He was so believable when he talked, so innocent he said.

I visited him in the same prison in Illinois that was holding John Gotti, the Rams a few miles away in St. Louis and preparing for a Super Bowl while he was given an hour in the prison yard.

That pretty much makes me a rotten judge of character, I guess, and so when I tell you how much I admired Karl Dorrell, that probably doesn’t bode well for him. He’s expected to be fired after failing to coach Colorado to success, and will be matched against UCLA Saturday, a school that fired him previously as head coach.

Maybe he hasn’t proven to be a great coach, but a great guy he was when I knew him, and I put him through the ringer for being boring. I didn’t say I was a great guy.

But that’s how I knew Ridley-Thomas, as a great stand-up guy. I recently began reading everything I could to find out more about him because I was bothered with the accusation levied against him and how wrong I appeared to be.

I learned some things that were troubling, but how many of us make it through life without some troubles. I stood before a judge and jury three times, and swore I did nothing wrong and three times I won. But it didn’t feel that way and may not read that way.

Ridley-Thomas was accused of wanting to spend too much on office remodeling, washed his car too much while under water restrictions, and OK, throw away the key.

As a reporter I would have mocked him for such malpractice, while adding a harsh rebuke privately, but now the accusations have been ratcheted up to a $100,000 bribe to help one of his twin sons out.

No idea how it might go in a courtroom, but every time I spoke with the man, I felt I was better off. I thought I was talking to someone who majored in public service; it doesn’t read that way now.

Can’t wait for that November trial. There are two sides to a story, and I hope Ridley-Thomas has a good one to tell restore my faith in my own judgment, or I might never again be able to trust what a politician has to say.

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