Sheldon Richardson needed help -- and this time he asked for it.
In a nearly empty visitor's locker room at Ford Field Thursday night, he allowed a teammate to give him an assist. And Joe Mays was happy to oblige.
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While a crowd of reporters and cameramen waited patiently for Richardson to begin his postgame interview, the Jets defensive tackle stood about 10 feet away, struggling to get his bow-tie on straight. That's when the linebacker waved Richardson over. And the meticulous Mays wouldn't allow Richardson to step in front of the cameras until he looked perfect.
It was an innocent gesture, one that likely went unnoticed in the late hours of the night, but it spoke volumes of how Richardson is viewed and treated in the Jets' locker room. Despite a second failed drug test and a four-game suspension by the NFL, and even after his reckless high-speed chase from cops on a Missouri interstate and his subsequent arrest, Richardson hasn't been abandoned. Instead, his teammates have shown him that he's in good hands.
"We just want to let every single player, and not just Sheldon, but everybody on this team to know that they're not in this alone," said Mays, an eight-year veteran who signed with the Jets in April. "If we want to be a team, a brotherhood, we have to treat each other like brothers. Me, being the new guy, I wanted to come in and let guys know who I am, personally, and what I'm about."
Richardson has mostly gotten second-team reps in practice since his latest off-the-field incident came to light. During Thursday night's 23-3 loss to the Lions, he again was placed alongside backups.
In all, he played only five snaps.
"I wouldn't say I'm used to it, but I brought it on myself, so I've got to handle it accordingly," Richardson, the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year, said after the game.
The last time he wasn't a starter was his freshman year at Missouri. And the demotion has taken a toll on the 24-year-old.
"Yeah, you can see it," Mays said. " . . . Sometimes he has his head down, sometimes he's slumped over. But at the same time, it's our job to go over there and lift him up."
Richardson is allowed to participate in training camp and preseason games, but his suspension is looming. And he thinks about it often.
"It's going to be rough," he said. "I'm a ballplayer. Once again, I brought it on myself, so I can't look back now. I can only move forward."
That's why Mays and the rest of the Jets are keeping a close eye on Richardson.
After all, he is their football brother.
"When you come in this building, we're not going to judge you, we're not going to try to come down on you," Mays said. "We want to let you know that we're here for you so you can always talk to us before anything happens and even after."