Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Team Discipline

In listening to talk radio here in central Alabama this week, I have heard a lot of talk about "discipline". Honestly, I do not understand the fan's approach and perspective on team discipline. Many of them seem to have thinly veiled contempt for football players and want them to live in a virtual prison.

I can't begin to tell you how many call-ins have talked about "kids these days" and how discipline in the home is suffering and kids don't have any fear of authority anymore. There may be some truth to it, but the implication here is that Rashad Johnson's parents are to blame. Jeremy Elder's parents are to blame.

Believe me, as an attorney who represents accused juvenile delinquents, I have my own attitudes and perspectives on certain parents. However, to come out with no knowledge of the situation and all but indict Rashad Johnson's parents and Jeremy Elder's parents for neglect is reprehensible. It's unfair. It speaks from ignorance. It's thoroughly embarrassing.

I think it comes down to a bizarre form of hero worship that dates back to primitive man. Some people, and I find this particularly true or especially prevalent among Bama fans for some reason, want their athletes to be not only good athletes, but also paragons of virtue. They want their athletes to be modeled after Thor, Superman, or Siegfried. They want them to be champions on the field, saving stranded kittens off the field, helping old ladies cross the street, and fighting for truth, justice, and the American Way.

If they fail to live up to that ideal, they must pay. There must be physical pain. There must be penance. They must pay until it hurts not only themselves, but the team and the fans. They want SUSPENSIONS! If these players don't know what a privilege it is to dress up in the crimson jerseys, and aren't willing to live a monkish lifestyle in the process, then they must be punished for their failure to be like Siegfried.

Granted, I don't want all of the best athletes on the team to be like Achilles skulking in his tent (READ A BOOK!), but I also expect the athletes to be human.

By all accounts, Rashad Johnson is a fine human being who worked his way up from walk-on to All-SEC while never getting into any trouble before he allegedly shoved a bar bouncer on the Strip. Heck, if the worst thing a college athlete ever does is shove a bouncer once in his life, I consider him a success story. If there are three or four of those kinds of incidents over the course of a career, that's another story, but once? For a 5th year senior? Big deal.

Some callers want the Strip to be declared off limits for the players. I think this is crazy talk too. The Strip, for those of you outside of the area, The Strip is the prime nightlife within Tuscaloosa. This is not like LSU, where there are a number of areas around Baton Rouge where students hang out. Here in Tuscaloosa, most of the bars and clubs are either on University Boulevard right off of campus or are downtown within a few blocks of University. All of it is within walking distance of each other.

If the Strip and Downtown are off limits, you're basically telling players they can't go out and have fun. Doing that would mean that players could only go to house parties (which are probably even more troublesome) or must drive to Birmingham (also problematic). I don't think you can tell college students, particularly athletes, that they can't go out on the town to blow off steam. It's inconceivable to me.

I think people need to relax when it comes to team discipline. Yes, the coach has to do something about major incidents like melees, academic problems, etc., but sometimes a coach is probably best served by realizing that some things are just no big deal. Let the courts punish Rashad Johnson for shoving a bouncer, if he did it. It'll cost him some money and some embarrassment and some time at the courthouse. That sounds like enough to me. If it isn't, let him run some stadium steps. Above all, stop with the calls and the "back in my day" speeches. I'm tired of hearing them.

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