It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me well that I’m not a huge fan of organized sports. There are two main reasons for this lack of fandom on my part. The first reason is that I’m uncoordinated and I suck at almost every sport. The second and most important reason is that I believe that our culture’s obsession with sports has created a group of people who are not often held to account for their actions, no matter how heinous, because they are athletes.
Before you start composing your email about how I’m an un-American wuss, please allow me to vividly illustrate my point. I have two separate incidents that should easily accomplish that task.
When I was in college, I was a Resident Assistant, which meant that I was in charge of a floor of my residence hall. During my fourth year in this position, I got to be a first-hand witness to one of the most deplorable events of my lifetime. Our school had two basketball players who had been suspended from school for their involvement in a gang-rape incident. Apparently, their skill at putting the round ball through the orange hoop was such that our basketball coach requested their re-admittance. Unfortunately for the basketball program, however, our Dean of Admissions for our private Baptist university was a man of character and told both the players, the basketball coach, and the University President where they could put their applications for re-admittance.
That sounds like a win for character, right? Well, it would if that was the end of the story. The Dean of Admissions went on vacation the next week and while he was gone, the University President had one of the Vice Presidents re-admit the basketball players. The end result of these maneuverings were that the Dean of Admissions quit and left to be president of another college and that I got to have these two losers on my hall for the rest of the year, while they proceeded violate every rule we had in the student handbook. Every attempt that I made to hold these guys accountable hit a glass ceiling, so I quit trying.
On a side note, the University President went on to be forced to leave the university after NCAA sanctions for changing player’s grades. Finally, a win for character, right? Wrong. He got his golden parachute severance package and went on to be the president for another school. His replacement? The same Vice President who signed the re-admission papers for those athletes. Awesome.
Our next story will be brief, as it takes quite an emotional toll on me to tell it. A student from my high school (who had gone to school with my younger sister) ended up at my small, private university. His history was that of repeated drug and behavior offenses, with his parents and coaches bailing him out because he played football. One of his last offenses before leaving town involved wrecking the car his parent’s had bought him. They promptly replaced the wrecked car with a new Mustang, before sending him off to my school.
I remember it was a nice, new Mustang because it is the car that he was recklessly driving when he killed one of my friends after a party. I’ll always remember the details about that jerk and his car because I had to testify at his manslaughter trial at the behest of the victim’s family. All I heard at that trial was how he was a good boy with bad luck, who was full of remorse and had drastically changed his life because of the wreck.
That’s funny. I distinctly remember that “good and remorseful boy” offering me drugs in local music venue and watching him carry a beer keg around at a local street festival the summer after the wreck (while he was underage). That’s odd. That doesn’t seem like remorse following a wreck that took the life of one of your acquaintances.
I think that I’ve firmly established my point that concerns for athletic ability often override appropriate consequences for lapses in judgement, deficiencies in character, and criminal offenses. Now, I would like to applaud a local high school for actually getting it right with their football program. As much as it pains me to compliment a rival high school, Erwin High School did the right thing and boy, did it cost them.
Erwin was on its way to a perfect football season, with several players being scouted for reputable college teams. The school was going to set a record for Western North Carolina and one young man was about to obliterate several high school records for passing yards. Coach Mike Sexton had brought new life and success to a program that had not had very much of either in the past twenty years. The team was simply unstoppable…until a few weeks ago.
Apparently, three of Erwin’s football players (I won’t call the team members, because clearly they don’t understand the concept) were caught possessing marijuana at a traffic stop. What are the consequences for such an activity, you might ask? Being suspended from all athletic activities.
So, how much difference did it make to have three players suspended from the Erwin squad? It cost them the Mountain Area Conference Championship and it put them out of the state playoffs in the first round, because two of those players were the team’s best receivers. The suspension also ended the other young man’s attempt at setting the passing record. The simple fact is that these three young students made choices that affected not only themselves, but their friends, their school, and their entire community.
These three young men have demonstrated exceedingly poor judgement and a serious lack of moral character. An entire community paid the price for their actions, but I have to say that the real winners in all of this are the Erwin Athletic Department and Buncombe County Schools. The arresting officer, an Erwin supporter, chose not to look the other way. The folks at Erwin chose to follow the rules set forth by the Buncombe County School system and not look for some sort of work-around. Following the offense, Erwin made some hard choices with integrity.
In the end, three athletes broke the law and threw their team, their school, and their community under the bus. In response to a bad situation, Erwin’s administration and athletic department did the right thing and they should get a trophy for that…and they should make those three boys pay for it and present it to the school in front of a home crowd at their football stadium.