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When Push Comes to Shove
Nineteen years ago, when I was even more innocent and naïve than I am now, I experienced profound disappointment in relation to college football. Nebraska coach Tom Osborne, a man who wore the mantle of unimpeachable character and elevated Christian morality, proved himself to be just another crud blinded by the desire for victory at any cost. Early in the football season of 1995, Cornhusker star running back and Heisman Trophy candidate Lawrence Phillips broke into an apartment, assaulted a female Nebraska basketball player, and dragged her by her hair down a flight of stairs. In a healthy society, such an act would result in a long stretch in prison. In a healthy football program, Phillips would have been immediately dismissed, no ifs, ands or buts about it. Instead, Osborne suspended Phillips for six games. The suspension conveniently ended just in time for Phillips to reenter the Nebraska lineup as the Cornhuskers made their stretch run for a national title, which they eventually won by destroying Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. Osborne came in for criticism. He responded by saying that "he was doing it for the kid," in this case, Lawrence Phillips. In America, people in power can get away with all manner of malfeasance by claiming that is in the best interest of the kids. Now, some 19 years after I saw the ugly reality that lay beyond Osborne's pristine façade, I see something similar happen with the Oklahoma Sooners and head football coach Bob Stoops. Superstar wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who was finally booted from the University of Missouri program after being arrested three times in three years, the final offense featuring Green-Beckham shoving an 18-year-old girl down a flight of stairs, has found a feather bed in Norman. The parallels between Phillips/Nebraska and Green-Beckham/Oklahoma are obvious. In both instances teams contending or expected to contend for the national title, play footsy with an extremely talented player who brutalized a woman. Bottom line—Tom Osborne and Bob Stoops put winning ahead of basic, common decency. All of which brings us to a study in contrasts, the valorous component of which occurred at Texas Tech. The basic facts are now well known. During a pick-up basketball game in Tech's student recreation center, Lady Raider basketball player Amber Battle shoved freshman football player Nigel Bethel. The latter responded by landing a punch on Battle that broke a bone in her face. Which way would coach Kliff Kingsbury and the Tech athletic department go? Would they pull an Osborne/Stoops and slap the talented young prospect expected to compete at a position of need on the wrist? Or would they do the right thing, bite the bullet, and send Bethel packing, while also punishing Battle for her role in the incident? I am pleased to say that my alma mater took the high road. Amber Battle has been suspended for the month of November, which means that she will miss several games more than Baylor's Brittney Griner did after sucker punching Lady Raider Jordan Barncastle and breaking her nose. And Nigel Bethel has been given his walking papers back to the city of Miami. He will never represent Texas Tech University in any capacity. The contrast is striking. In the case of Bethel and Texas Tech, there was the mitigating circumstance of the woman (Battle) initiating the confrontation. In the case of both Phillips and Green-Beckham, there were no extenuating circumstances whatsoever. Phillips and Green-Beckham, with purpose aforethought, committed violent crimes against women (Green-Beckham having been busted twice before) in conjunction with breaking and entering. Yet it was Texas Tech that threw the book at Bethel, while Oklahoma and Nebraska looked the other way in relation to their student-criminals. Texas Tech and Kliff Kingsbury have done themselves proud. They have stood tall against the sickening act of man-on-woman violence, even though doing so appreciably harms the Red Raider football team in the upcoming season. Unlike Tom Osborne and Bob Stoops, Kingsbury didn't leave me and countless others disillusioned and disgusted with the institution of major college football. I hope he never does.
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