Sports is supposed to be my refuge, a place where familiar, simple things insulate me from the anxiety surrounding just about everything else these days.
I have to tell you, sports has been doing a piss-poor job in this role as of late.
From an alleged gang rape involving football players at Minnesota to the just-released video of an Oklahoma running back punching a woman in the face to unethical conduct earning an irritated shoulder shrug to less-than-upstanding individuals getting sweet new coaching gigs right and left, I don’t really feel safe turning on SportsCenter anymore.
Golden Gophers players are threatening to boycott an upcoming Holiday Bowl appearance because 10 members of the team have been suspended in connection with a sexual assault investigation. The number of “men” – we’ll use the term loosely – involved in the “encounter,” as media reports have termed it, ranges from five to 10 to 20. Some reports say the woman in the incident in question consented to sex with two of them; others indicate she may have been too drunk to do so and describe her fumbling for clothes she couldn’t find while screaming and trying to push bodies off hers.
According to CNN, there are at least two cell phone videos. An 80-page report issued Tuesday by the university says there were three. It also describes people hovering in the doorway of the dorm room, talking and laughing, jockeying for position.
I, obviously, don’t know the details, as, praise God and everything holy, I was not in that room. Here’s what I do know: If you’re a football player, a “man,” a human – hell, I imagine most dogs would’ve done something – standing in that doorway, two acceptable thoughts should go through your mind. One: This seems wrong; maybe I should try to stop it. Or, two: This seems wrong; maybe I should get the hell out of here. The latter is a bit on the cowardly side, but it’s understandable. Less so are two other options: This looks fun; let me get on it; or, this looks fun; let me record it.
Even if the woman was swinging naked from the chandelier, issuing gold-plated invitations to any and everyone to join the “encounter,” something in your brain – young, impressionable, alcohol-clouded and hormone-ruled though it may be – has to balk at jumping into the fray. If it’s too much to ask to think of the woman in question, surely university standing, playing status or possible criminal charges should filter through. One of the men involved reportedly told police, “I wish she didn’t remember my damn name.” Well, son, why are you having sex with a woman you don’t want to remember your name? Does that seem like a good idea?
But by all means, let’s focus our sports chat discussions on whether the football players should be allowed to boycott the bowl game, and what repercussions they might face if they do. The players say the rights of their “brothers” to due process have been violated and their reputations tarnished because they’ve been named in some media outlets even though charges haven’t been filed. (My heart breaks.) For the record, scholarships are contracts. Letters of intent are legal documents. So sure, boycott. If you lose that scholarship, you have as much right to cry as Donald Sterling or Phil Robertson or anyone else who learns that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences.
UPDATE: Saturday morning, Minnesota players announced they're dropping the boycott and will play in the bowl. Well, whoopee. Guess that's that, then.
In comparison, other issues raising their tired, ugly heads seem to shrink, but they do bear mentioning. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered the release of a video showing Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon punching a female student in the face – breaking four bones – after the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters sued to obtain it. In the video from the July 2014 incident at a sandwich shop, Mixon gets into an altercation with the student, who appears to slap his neck before he floors her with a right hand. As Mixon walks off, people try to help the woman up. She slides off a booth back down to the floor.
Mixon has apologized and was suspended from the team for a year. He led the Sooners to the 2015 Orange Bowl, where they lost to Clemson, and is expected to enter the NFL Draft after Oklahoma’s Sugar Bowl matchup with Auburn on Jan. 2.
It's a sick commentary that my first thought was to compare the video to others I've viewed of athletes hitting women. It's not so bad by, say, Ray Rice-in-an-elevator standards. But it's pretty bad in human decency terms.
Former Wake Forest assistant football coach and radio announcer Tommy Elrod didn’t hit anybody. What he did apparently do is offer game plan information to Demon Deacon opponents, beginning in 2014, as part of a grudge seemingly borne from not being retained after 11 seasons on the Wake coaching staff by current head coach Dave Clawson, hired in 2013.
So far, Louisville and Virginia Tech have admitted receiving the information. Virginia Tech said a former assistant was involved and, to its credit, apologized profusely. Louisville responded … differently, with AD Tom Jurich initially bitching that the news was distracting the Cardinals as they prepared for their bowl game before grudgingly suspending implicated assistant Lonnie Galloway.
Initially, Jurich said that the matter involved “a few plays” before issuing this tone-deaf sentence: “I’m disappointed that this issue has brought undue attention to our football staff as we prepare for our upcoming bowl game.”
Odd that Jurich would have a problem with undue attention. After all, he hired Bobby Petrino again. After repeatedly lying about interviewing with other schools, Petrino signed a 10-year contract extension at Louisville in 2006, months before leaving to become head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. That job lasted 13 games. Petrino left a note in his players’ lockers hours before being introduced as Arkansas’ head coach, but he was run out of Razborback land after an April 2012 crash with his mistress on the back of his motorcycle.
(Oh, and Louisville’s basketball team has been charged with four major NCAA violations. One involves a former staffer who allegedly paid women to dance for and have sex with players and recruits.)
Petrino, however, wins football games, as does Steve Sarkisian. Sarkisian, fired from the University of Southern California in 2015 for incidents stemming from a reported drinking problem, went 34-29 from 2009-2013 at a Washington program that had won 12 games in the previous five seasons. That, and not the lawsuit Sarkisian filed against Southern Cal for firing him without accommodating his efforts to seek treatment for alcoholism, must have been what Alabama coach Nick Saban was thinking of when he said “He’s got a really great track record and has done a really, really good job wherever he’s been” in announcing Sarkisian as Alabama’s new offensive coordinator on Friday.
Sarkisian replaces Lane Kiffin, now head coach at Florida Atlantic. Kiffin is no stranger to head coaching positions, though keeping them is a different story. In 2007, he became the 31-year-old head coach of the Oakland Raiders, where he went 5-15 in one and a half seasons. He then spent one season as head coach at Tennessee before bolting for Southern Cal, where he won 25 games from 2010-2013.
While Kiffin’s record is respectable enough, he’s made a habit of burning bridges behind him. Late Raiders owner Al Davis ripped into him after his short tenure in Oakland ended, saying “I think he conned me like he conned all you people.” At Tennessee, he accused then-Florida coach Urban Meyer of recruiting violations and was also implicated in an NCAA investigation of Tennessee’s recruiting “hostesses,” whose visit to a high school in South Carolina to smile pretty at potential recruits was deemed illegal. (Are we sensing any sort of theme here?)
Kiffin also infamously told former University of South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey that if he played for the Gamecocks, he would “end up pumping gas for the rest of his life.”
Kiffin left Knoxville after a year to return to the Trojans, where he’d been offensive coordinator. I got a text from a Tennessee player I’d covered in high school, saying, “See what I mean about him?” He wore out his welcome there, too, before landing on Saban’s staff.
All this has made me tired. Tired of the same stupid shit and the same stupid faces. Apparently, if one wants to be an immature, lying, unaccountable adult, that’s fine, as long as you win football games. If personal responsibility or integrity isn’t your thing, just make sure your X’s and O’s are on point, and you’re good to go – and go, and go somewhere else.
Seems like a fine example to set for the young people, and they seem to be quick studies.