It is common knowledge among fans of college football and basketball that many of the most gifted athletes come from troubled backgrounds in blighted urban areas. Often, there was no father in the home; poverty, gangs, drugs, bad schools, and hopelessness were all around.
Granted a college athletic scholarship, some of these young men make the most of it, staying out of trouble, working hard in the classroom as well as in their athletic endeavors, and earning a degree that will help them achieve success after graduation. Far more of them don't make it to the NFL or NBA than do. The athletes who buckle down academically and steer clear of trouble are probably well aware of this fact.
Others may slide by with Mickey Mouse classes, ample assistance from tutors, and barely passing grades, yet still manage to stay out of trouble.
Then there are those who embarrass their university by getting involved in drinking, drugs, sexual assault, robberies, and other nefarious activities. My alma mater, Michigan State University, has had its share, as have many other universities, including the University of Michigan, which despite its best efforts to portray a squeaky clean image ("The leaders and the best") has been less than forthcoming in addressing the problem candidly.
Sometimes there is a fine line between tough love, i.e. on the one hand punishing a violator and letting him know how close he came to getting tossed out, yet delivering an ultimatum that he must shape up or ship out; and on the other hand, living in the "zero tolerance" absolute world that calls for immediately revoking a scholarship and kicking a player off the team for a transgression.
If the latter happens, there is a good chance the punished athlete will revert back to the streets and the bad actors who will lead him astray into drugs, crime, long-term unemployment, and maybe prison. He might be lost for good, which is truly a tragedy.
My co-blogger, K.N. McBride, alluded to his former membership in the "absolutism" school of thought, and acknowledged that age, experience and greater wisdom have caused him to have a change of heart. I'm in the same boat (a former absolutist), although it took me longer to reach this destination.
Looking back, my parents stayed together and did their best to discipline me and my siblings. I had a father who was a disciplinarian and kept me in line. I did some stupid things in my younger days, and sometimes wondered if I'd ever amount to anything. It wasn't easy. But at least I had a male role model and a moral foundation.
I recognize that not having a father, and growing up in a tough neighborhood rife with bad examples, depravity, poverty, illiteracy, drugs, crime, and prevalent impoverishment — both materially and spiritually — stacks the deck against one tremendously.
So I can see merit in both sides of the argument when it comes to Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio's decision to give running back Glenn Winston of Detroit a second chance last summer following his conviction for an assault on an MSU hockey player at a party. Winston, as K.N. McBride mentioned in his blog, has now officially been booted from the team for his role in a second assault.
Winston's teammate, Roderick Jenrette, a junior safety from Tampa, Fla., also was kicked off the team for his involvement in the same incident. He had already been in the coach's doghouse in 2008 for some "violations of team rules."
According to The State News, the MSU student newspaper, several football players got in a brawl with members of a black fraternity at an East Lansing night club on Saturday, Nov. 21. The next night, following the football team banquet, several players showed up at the dormitory where the frat was holding a fundraiser dinner and assaulted some fraternity members and other attendees.
East Lansing Police and the county prosecutor still are investigating, so more heads may roll. But what bugs me is why Coach Dantonio gave Winston a second chance in the first place. The hockey player Winston injured on Oct. 19, 2008, A.J. Sturges, suffered a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain.
The severity of Sturges' injury, plus the fact this was a premeditated assault (several cars pulled up at Sturges' house and people got out and invaded the home), make this a far more serious offense than a drunken driving arrest or charges for drunk and disorderly behavior, for example. Perhaps the coach ought to have given Winston the heave-ho rather than a second chance, given the nature of the offense.
Coach Dantonio has shown himself to be a stubborn man in some of his on-field decisions, and his reinstatement of Winston despite the severity of the offense is highly questionable. The seriousness and egregious nature of the assault are enough to make a reasonable person have grave reservations about Winston's character and whether he deserved a second chance.
I have been critical of many of Dantonio's coaching decisions this season, and his seemingly permanent irritable disposition. But being a long-time Spartan fan, I also realize that changing coaches every three or four years is a recipe for long-term instability and mediocrity. So I'm willing to give "Grumpy Mark" a year or two more. But if next season turns into the huge disappointment this season was, watch out for the enraged citzenry wielding pitchforks. Yours truly might be one of them.