Ducks’ Reversal A Bad Precedent

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - October 14, 2009
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Blount hurdles Boise State defenders in a 2008 loss, which ultimately led to a 2009 vow he could not fulfill

Some seven weeks ago, Oregon coach Chip Kelly made a decision that negatively affected his team, and was rightfully hailed for his courage and decisiveness.

LeGarrette Blount was definite in his statements leading up to the Boise State game. He wanted pay-back. “We owe that team an ass-whuppin’,” he told Sports Illustrated.

Following another loss on Sept. 3, Blount showed his displeasure by sucker-punching Boise State defensive end Byron Hout after Hout no doubt congratulated Blount on his prediction. In a complete rage, Blount had to be forcibly removed from the field by coaches, players, sideline personnel and police after trying to enter the stands to rearrange some Boise supporters.

For his actions, Blount was removed from the team but allowed to keep his scholarship. On the day of the suspension, ESPN’s Joe Shad reported that Kelly said after seeing the video that it was immediately clear that he had no choice but to suspend Blount for the year. The fight marked the second time Blount had run afoul of team rules. Both of which resulted in indefinite suspensions. School president Richard Lariviere called Blount’s behavior “reprehensible.”

Now, things aren’t so clear.

Running a reverse on his earlier claim that reinstatement for the senior tail-back was not an option, Kelly has opened some running room for Blount that could result in the player suiting up for the Ducks sometime this season. Kelly said he has set up a “rigid set of conditions” that would provide Blount the opportunity for consideration of reinstatement should all the demands be met. Earlier, Kelly had said reinstatement was not an option.

“After speaking with a number of nationally renowned professionals in the field, which included Dr. Harry Edwards and Tony Dungy, I came to the conclusion that leaving the door open for LeGarrette’s potential return as an active player was the best solution,” said Kelly in a statement.

Edwards is a well-respected sociologist and civil rights activist who pushed for a boycott of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City by black athletes and who worked as a consultant for the 49ers and Golden State Warriors. He also was an assistant to former Major League Baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, working to promote minority hiring in management and front-office positions. Dungy was an outstanding coach, but his credibility as a “nationally renowned professional” in any field outside his limited area of expertise is highly suspect. What’s needed is the opinion of psychologists.

Kelly has not divulged the criteria for the player’s reinstatement. Blount has sent a letter to the campus newspaper apologizing for his actions, and has spoken with Hout and Boise State coach Chris Peterson. On Blount’s Rolodex of late - in addition to Edwards and Dungy - is former Raiders and Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden, and former NBA player Kermit Washington, who is perhaps most famous for knocking unsuspecting Rudy Tomjanovich unconscious during an on-court mele in 1977. Each one has allegedly come away impressed.

It should come as no surprise that those most fully in Blount’s corner are former athletes and coaches. This group is an athletic version of the Hollywood heavyweights pushing to have director and convicted rapist Roman Polanski released from captivity in Switzerland after 30 years of escaping punishment while living a life of pleasure and admiration in Europe.

To suggest that Blount’s actions were in any way as horrific as the crime for which Polanski was convicted would be incorrect and grossly unfair. However, the athlete’s transgressions go beyond the accurate but ineffective jab tossed at Hout’s jaw.

The solitary punch can be excused as a sudden crime of passion, but it was his post-punch actions that were really disturbing and deserve scrutiny. Blount snapped. He lost control and was an unintended elbow away from being taken to the ground in handcuffs and a fog of pepper spray. Blount even gave a stiff, two-handed push to the face mask of teammate Garret Embry, whose only fault was trying to keep Blount from making the matter worse.

The question now is, what changed for the coach to alter his position? Kelly isn’t really talking except to say Blount is a good man who erred and is making amends.

Fair enough. But Blount was punished not for the person he is or the man he may become, but for the offense he committed.

For that, time must be served.

Any turning back from Kelly’s initial decision shows weakness and gives righteous fire to opponents convinced that athletic talent continues to outweigh social responsibility.

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