Thursday, September 20, 2007

Six Time's a Charm?

Six. The number of strings on a standard guitar. The number of points you get for a touchdown. The number of main characters on Friends. The number of Longhorn football players arrested since June.

Can we blame these arrests on national celebrities like Paris Hilton, OJ (wait… nevermind), Michael Vick, and others who live their lives as if the law doesn’t apply to them? Although this sense of invincibility may definitely be a factor, we don’t live in a world where PlayStation is reality and World of Warcraft constitutes real friendship. We live in a society where laws exist and are meant to be followed, even if your name appears in the Austin American Statesman on a weekly basis. In addition, we should not fault six immature adolescents for the Texas football fall from grace. That blame lies solely with one person: Mack Brown.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Mack. He’s a good coach with the ability to recruit parents as well as young athletes and treats his staff with respect. He is successful on the field and brought home a National Championship just a few short years ago. Honorably, on Tuesday, after Texas freshman James Henry became the sixth Longhorn to get arrested since June, Mack stood in front of the media and personally took responsibility for the troubling series of events. He promised to revisit the causes of such problems and held himself accountable. Honorable… but not enough.

This is crisis time for Texas football and especially for Mack Brown. The players that he recruits and their actions reflect directly on him, and indirectly on me as an alum and football fan. I can understand an isolated incident where a player gets into trouble because of a stupid, immature action. After all, they are mostly teenagers, and you can’t tell me that you were a complete angel at that age. But six incidents in three months? There is something fundamentally wrong with the way players are being recruited, managed, and ultimately disciplined for their actions.

Case in point: Henry Melton and Sergio Kindle were reinstated after serving a Mack Brown-imposed three-game suspension for drunk driving over the summer. In contrast, six Penn State players were arrested for fighting in April of this year and as a consequence, the entire football team cleans the bleachers after every home game in the fall. Collective discipline versus an individual slap on the wrist. You make the call.

The bottom line is that Mack Brown made a mistake and is ill-prepared to deal with the consequences. Apparently a large group of young Longhorn football players are more interested in building “street cred” than being productive members of society. I do hold them personally accountable for their actions, but Mack recruited them. Strike One. When you sign a player, you sign his personality, his baggage, and his quirks alongside his athletic ability. Not convinced? Ask Miami about Ricky.

Every time Mack disciplines a player for an action, isolating him from the team in an effort to distance himself from the problem, he lays the groundwork for future indiscretion. You can’t tell me a player will be less likely to act out if he knows his 90 closest (not to mention very large) friends will be picking up empty Cracker Jack boxes and mopping up spilled coke for 5 hours every Sunday. Strike Two.

To be blunt, I might have trouble watching UT football without an air of cynicism and contempt from here on out. At least there are three strikes in baseball…

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