Let True Student-Athletes Determine Championships
By John Ventola
The overwhelming need to win at almost any cost continues to grow in professional and college football. Professional players, coaches, and team executives have their livelihoods on the line while their collegiate counterparts have lucrative pro contracts, their coaching jobs, and athletic directorships dependent on their individual and team performances. This has been a year to uncover unscrupulous off field behavior and enforce some rules, particularly at the professional level, but there is still too much leniency and inconsistency at the college level. Championships at any cost seem to be the mantra. Double talk or non-specific conversations to protect dubious character is distasteful, if not downright disgusting.
My folks taught me years ago the truism to “stand for something, or fall for anything”. When an athlete shows numerous times that he has no boundaries and
continuously makes bad decisions off the field, then they need to receive more than a half game or one game suspension. A slap on the wrist does not do much to get bad behavior under control and gives the culprit a feeling of unearned invincibility from supervision.
Saturday Jameis Winston will be quarterbacking the No. 2 ranked Florida State against No. 5 Notre Dame in Tallahassee. Last season, Winston led the Seminoles to the 2013 National Championship as he garnered the season’s Heisman Trophy. He, no doubt, is a talented athlete. His exploits during his redshirt freshman season and so far this year have the FSU fan base suffering elbow injuries while doing the “tomahawk chop” during games, but while he has been a model player on the field, he has been far from the model student off of it.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and the university itself have opened themselves up to criticism in their handling of Winston’s discipline for alleged sexual assault, alleged theft, and possible selling of autographs. The alleged victim of the sexual assault before the 2013 season was attacked verbally by overzealous FSU fans and basically pushed to the background. The grocery store theft was brushed under the rug (possible money transaction made it happen), and the autograph explanation is still pending—-as the Seminoles move toward another unbeaten season.
Georgia saw fit to suspend Heisman Trophy contender Todd Gurley, while Dumbo, I mean Jimbo Fisher conveniently looks the other way as the school attempts to come up with weekly plausible explanations for why Winston’s autographs are floating around the country. Inconsistency, Johnny Manziel could do it, why not Jameis Winston? So what if Georgia coach Mark Richt and Georgia decided to act on Gurley and his autograph selling. Of course, Gurley was honest and admitted to receiving money, while Winston—and Fisher says he believes it—said he did not receive any monetary benefit. Yeah, right.
Winston’s disregard for those in authority was clearly shown when Florida State was pushed to the brink and finally decided to suspend the quarterback for an entire game earlier this season. There was so much national attention being put on discipline of both professional and college players at the time (Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, etc.) that even Fisher decided to show some common sense. How did Winston repay his coach? He went ahead and dressed out without
Fisher’s knowledge and showed up on the field for pre-game warmups. The look on Fisher’s face was priceless when he was told Winston was on the field. He looked agitated as he told Winston to go back to the locker room and take off his uniform.
Notre Dame has a short leash for their student-athletes, and while their image has been tarnished from time to time through the years, they do take the first part in the hyphenated word seriously. Right before this season started they suspended five players, including their leading returning receiver and a starting cornerback. Academic integrity and adherence to a strict honor code is enforced and a two month investigation was completed last week. The investigation into whether or not the students turned in class papers prepared by others resulted in all five not being able to play for the 2014 season. Junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell and senior lineman Ishaq Williams have decided to return next season and resume their Irish careers, while top receiver DaVaris Daniels has chosen to transfer. It is unclear what senior backup linebacker Kendall Moore and safety Eilar Hardy will do going forward.
Starting quarterback Everett Golson was suspended the entire 2013 season after leading the Irish to the BCS championship game for the 2012 season. He paid the price for some academic transgressions, hopefully learned something from the experience, and is again flourishing athletically as the unbeaten Irish head into Florida.
It is not only FSU. LSU (former star running back Jeremy Hill allegedly sexually assaulted a high school classmate, the Honey Badger Tyrann Mathieu was a fulltime bad-boy, finally being suspended for the whole year after his top-five Heisman candidate season), Alabama, Texas and many other top echelon programs are fighting the discipline battle yearly. Long worshiped athletes often go through high school without any repercussions for bad behavior. This often leads to the same expectations once they enter college programs.
Notre Dame’s worst experience came in August, 2010. At the beginning of Coach Brian Kelly’s time in South Bend a freshman football player, Prince Shembo,
allegedly raped St. Mary’s student Lizzy Seeberg. She reported the alleged incident, described in detail how she had shared an outing with Shembo and two other male students, and how he turned aggressive once they were alone in his dorm room. Again, much like the alleged victim at FSU, Seeberg began receiving some intimidating messages that made her out to be the culprit. Ten days after the alleged rape, Lizzy Seeberg committed suicide. Her mother would later say that when she and her husband asked for an investigation into her daughter’s charges and a review of her statement, Notre Dame officials supposedly said they were backed up with the opening of football season. In fact, even though Shembo was known as the accused player by people in the college communities of Notre Dame and nearby St. Mary’s, he was not identified in the media during his time at Notre Dame because no official charges were ever made. Shembo admitted to being the accused when he tried out for the NFL combine a few years after the tragic incident. Not what one would expect from a school such as Notre Dame, but shows the difficulty in detecting character kinks in young people, particularly aggressive athletes that have rarely heard the word “no” while growing up.
Things moved so quickly during those ten days at Notre Dame back in 2010, and I am sure policies are now in place to prevent such alleged callousness regarding an alleged criminal act. Tragically, a young woman lost her life. But Winston’s abhorrent behavior has been front and center for two years now, and no one at Florida State is really holding him accountable. What is the price of victory? What is the price of a national championship?[signoff}