Miami Sends The Wrong Message

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - October 25, 2006
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Famed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically ... Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.”

By Dr. King’s measure, the University of Miami and the Atlantic Coast Conference have failed in their educational mission.

By now we all know the story. Players from Miami and Florida International University got into an on-field brawl that resulted in the suspension of 13 Miami players and 18 from FIU. Both schools also will require some to attend counseling and to do community service.

Miami’s Anthony Reddick - who used his helmet to attack FIU players - has been suspended indefinitely and FIU has kicked two players off the team.

While no one is beyond blame, Florida International does have to be recognized for its decisive action. Miami, on the other hand, cannot.

ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a statement: “These suspensions send a clear and definitive message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.”

Evidently this type of behavior has and will be tolerated so long as those involved are willing to forfeit an entire game against a weak opponent. And it seems that the only message is that assault, so long as it’s confined to the athletic field, is no bigger crime than missing a team meeting.

Donna Shalala, the former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under Bill Clinton and current president of the University of Miami, is an even bigger disappointment. Long regarded as a tough-minded person of conviction - it has been reported that she took Clinton to task after he admitted his affair with Monica Lewinski - Shalala seems to have bowed to the almighty football powers that say discipline is fine so long as it doesn’t jeopardize victories and keeps boosters happy.

At a press conference last week, Shalala said, “This university will be firm and punish people that do bad things. But (here it comes) we will not throw any student under the bus for instant restoration of our image or our reputation.”

Unfortunately, instant restoration of the school image and reputation is exactly what is needed. Miami isn’t the only rotten apple in the barrel, but it can hardly boast a puritanical dedication to sportsmanship.

Miami’s last on-field fracas came only 10 months ago against LSU in the Peach Bowl. It hasn’t been so long, 1994 to be exact, when academic adviser Tony Russell pleaded guilty to helping more than 80 student athletes - including 57 football players - falsify Pell Grant applications in exchange for kick-backs from the players. This was followed by the school being punished for providing improper payments to football players, failing to implement its drug testing policy and for not punishing some players for testing positive.

While head coach Larry Cocker talks a good game, his actions say otherwise. A year ago he gave a scholarship to troubled linebacker Willie Williams after other universities pulled their offers following reports that he had been arrested 10 times over a three-year period. Williams was sentenced to three years’ probation and 250 hours of community service for probation violation just prior to walking on campus.

While it is commendable that Miami has instituted a “zero-tolerance” policy on fighting that will result in the removal of guilty parties from the university, there is still the problem that many involved refuse to accept responsibility for what happened.

When asked about the fight, Miami center Anthony Wollschlager told reporters, “Do I think we were right? ... I think we were right sticking up for each other. Whether, whatever it be, whoever starts it, whatever that is, sometimes you have to stick up for one another.”

Again, it’s hard to throw stones at only Miami.

The University of Hawaii suspended six players for one game following the brawl that took place at the 2003 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. It was determined that the players broke the Western Athletic Conference code of conduct. UH negotiated with the WAC to allow coach June Jones to spread out the suspensions over a four-game period.

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