FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A flu-ridden Le’Veon Bell wasn’t well enough to play last Sunday for the New York Jets, but that didn’t stop the star running back from late-night bowling on the eve of the game — a decision that didn’t sit well with coach Adam Gase.
Gase said he won’t discipline Bell because no team rules were violated, but he acknowledged it was a bad optic for Bell and the organization.
“Yeah, I’d say so,” Gase said Tuesday.
Bell battled the flu last week and missed two practices, plus the Saturday walk-through. At 5 p.m. Saturday, the Jets announced Bell had been ruled out for their game against the Miami Dolphins. More than five hours later, he was spotted at a bowling alley in Boonton, New Jersey, according to a New York Post report.
Bell, wearing orange leather pants, was bowling with a group of friends, the newspaper said. There was alcohol at their table, but it was unclear if Bell had been drinking. He bowled from 10:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., when the alley closed.
“That wasn’t his fault that we said he’s still contagious,” Gase said. “I mean, that’s what the doctors told him. I’d rather him not be (bowling). I’d rather him be at home, getting better. But that will be a conversation we have.”
Bell wasn’t immediately available for comment. He’s expected to speak with reporters after their Tuesday afternoon walk-through. The Jets (5-8) are on a tight schedule this week because they’re on the road Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens (11-2). Bell is expected to play.
“Yeah, he’d better,” Gase said. “We’re out of guys.”
Bilal Powell, who replaced Bell last week and rushed for 74 yards (a team-high for the season), has an ankle injury and also has the flu.
Bell didn’t attend the Jets’ 22-21 win over the Dolphins. He also wasn’t with the team at their New Jersey hotel, where they stay on the eve of home games.
“We didn’t want him coming to the hotel or the locker room because he was still contagious,” Gase said.
Gase said he wasn’t aware of Bell’s bowling jaunt until late Monday night. Asked if he plans to impose a penalty, the coach replied, “What am I going to discipline him for? I can’t tell him, ‘You have to stay in your house.'”
This has been a disappointing season for Bell, who arrived with big expectations after signing a four-year, $52.5 million contract in March. He hasn’t rushed for more than 70 yards in a game, and his numbers for the year are the worst of his career — 589 yards, a 3.2 average and three touchdowns. He’s second on the team with 55 catches.
Bell seemed particularly frustrated after their Week 13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, a game in which he rushed only 10 times. Gase, who sources say opposed to signing Bell, was criticized for under-utilizing the former Pittsburgh Steelers star.
Four days after the game, Bell became ill. By late Saturday, he was listed as out.
“Oh, he wanted to play, but they said he was still contagious,” Gase said. “They didn’t want him around all the other guys because they thought it would spread through the team. We didn’t want to have a situation like some of these other teams are having, with 20 guys out during the week. … I know he didn’t feel great, but he was probably thinking he could still go.”
Until the bowling party, Bell had been lauded by coaches and teammates for his positive attitude. This was his first instance of questionable behavior.