Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Karma punches Michigan State in the face

In October of last year, Michigan State running back Glenn Winston and another player (walk-on Mitchell White) were involved in a fight at the home of several other MSU students. A bystander ended up with a broken jaw and hockey player A.J. Sturges suffered a severe head injury.

Sturges wrote a letter afterward that described the disturbing incident, including this lovely detail:
I was standing in my front yard trying to figure out what was going on when Glenn Winston punched me in the head from the side. I never saw him. I did not have any chance to protect myself at all. Neither did his other victims.

As a hockey player, I know what a fight is. What happened that night was not a fight. What happened was a violent crime. Pure and simple.
The court system agreed: Winston was sentenced to six months in jail on two misdemeanor assault charges. Remarkably, due to prison overcrowding, he was released on August 10 -- the exact day Michigan State started fall practice.

You'd assume there would be some punishment, of course, for assaulting a fellow student and spending several months in jail. But not from Mark Dantonio; Winston was reinstated to the football program the same day, earned regular playing time and was the starter by the time MSU played Michigan.

A.J. Sturges was less than thrilled:
I now look at myself as naive. I believed that the people involved in the assault, and those at MSU charged with handling policy, would do the right thing. They haven't. ...

Me and the other victims have not received any form of apology from Glenn Winston. Nothing. He has not acknowledged to us in any way the damage he caused. While this fact remains ignored, I cannot allow myself to believe that his debts have been paid, or even understood.

While the victims of his actions still recover from what he did, Winston's obligations have been deemed fulfilled by the football program and athletic department. I think his immediate reinstatement after a shortened jail sentence in my opinion is the wrong decision by our athletic program.

While I hope what happened to me will never happen again, I am afraid the precedent set by this decision will only enable similar incidents in the future. With no formal athletic standards or means to deal with student athletes convicted of a violent crime, this cycle will continue.

That was one hell of a prophetic statement. It's 14 months later, and where are we now?
Eight players suspended from Michigan State football team
A campus surveillance video shows 10 people -- eight of them football players -- donning ski masks and assaulting a number of students at a Iota Phi Theta fraternity dinner. The attack is believed to have been payback for a fight that broke out at a club the previous night. Any guesses as to who was kicked off the team immediately after news of the assault broke?

Glenn Winston.

The stated reason -- in a one-sentence press release -- was a "violation of team rules," as nobody (other than Mark Dantonio, apparently) knew Winston was involved in the fight until surveillance video was reviewed. Dantonio obviously hoped to hide the ugly details for as long as possible with a vague statement that made no mention of the damning truth behind the dismissal, but it's kind of hard to cover up a planned attack that was caught on tape. For all his tough talk and his grandfatherly look, Dantonio refused to punish a player who literally walked out of jail and onto the practice field the same day, and now it's come back to bite him in the ass.

I'm normally not a person who criticizes coaches for off-the-field problems -- nobody can be expected to keep constant tabs on 85 young men -- but when you instill a culture with no accountability and no threat of punishment, what do you expect? Discipline exists in society for a reason -- to stop people from doing stupid things.

The other players involved were: wide receiver Mark Dell, wide receiver B.J. Cunningham, wide receiver Fred Smith, running back Ashton Leggett, cornerback Chris L. Rucker, linebacker Brynden Trawick, nose tackle Ishmyl Johnson, defensive end Jamiihr Williams and safety Roderick Jenrette (Jenrette has since been dismissed, as this was his second off-the-field issue).

Dantonio now has two choices:

1. Make a complete mockery of himself and the school by issuing a bunch of one-game suspensions, proving beyond all doubt that "discipline" is only a word at Michigan State.
2. Kick a whole bunch of guys -- including both of next year's projected starting receivers and a starting cornerback -- off the team.

Based on his previous record, I'm guessing he'll choose the former. But if A.J. Sturges finally gets his way -- and if the school administration has any hopes of saving face -- it'll be the latter.

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