Doesn't urban like to run around and bill himself as a father figure and life mentor on the recruiting trail and in media circles?
It’s one of the oldest and most successful dodges in all the world. It can be used in various settings from political debates to press conferences, newspaper columns to blogs, and tweets to family arguments.
It’s as simple as this:
Person A asks a question.
Person B takes that question, exaggerates it, and then shoots down the exaggeration in an effort to avoid the actual question.
And that’s the end of the initial question. At least in theory.
We bring this up because we’re reading a lot about how former Florida football coach Urban Meyer is being “blamed” for the crimes allegedly committed by former Gator tight end Aaron Hernandez. Meyer has said it’s “irresponsible” to blame him. Meyer’s family has taken to Twitter to defend their paterfamilias as well. Even in-your-face CBSSports.com columnist Gregg Doyel has jumped in to take Meyer’s side and accuse people of “blaming” the UF coach (and/or Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick) for Hernandez’s alleged crimes.
The trouble with all of the blame talk is pretty easy to spot. Or not spot, as it were. Meaning: I have not found anyone — at least not anyone who’s ever been handed an actual press credential at some point in their life — who has said Meyer was “responsible” for the death of Odin Lloyd (and possibly others).
Not one serious column or opinion piece has claimed that Lloyd (and possibly others) would be alive today if Meyer had handled things differently with his former star tight end.
I have seen people ask what the hell kind of ship Meyer was running while in Gainesville. But that’s been going on since Meyer was actually running said ship in said city. When you have 31 players arrested between 2005 and 2010 you can expect some questions. When the majority of those players don’t miss serious playing time, you can expect even more queries.
I personally pointed out on June 27th that — in my opinion — from a disciplinary standpoint it sure looked like Meyer had more interest in keeping his players on the field than in teaching them life lessons. I called that “enabling.” Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun quickly responded that Meyer had held Bible study sessions with none other than Hernandez right in the coach’s very own domicile. Why, at that point I almost felt bad about questioning the Gators’ discipline under Meyer.
But then I remembered that love, hugs and Bible studies can also be provided for suspended players, too. And when a player fails multiple drug tests, is arrested in a bar fight at age 17, and is questioned as part of an investigation into a shooting — call me crazy — but a meaningful suspension from football might be in order.
At Florida under Meyer, that wasn’t the case for Hernandez. Now, he did have to sit out one game as part of the school’s official drug policy, but as I pointed out in this site’s previous column on the topic, Meyer didn’t want anyone to even know that his guy had been suspended. Rather than admit that Hernandez had broken an unspecified team rule, Meyer claimed that Hernandez just hadn’t gotten himself ready to play that week.
Folks, look up “players’ coach” in the dictionary and you’ll find a photo of the ex-UF and current Ohio State head coach smiling back at you.
But is writing any of that actually blaming Meyer for what happened with Hernandez a few years later in Massachusetts? I don’t think so. I think it’s stating that Meyer liked to spare the rod on the disciplinary front. I think it’s questioning — questioning, mind you — whether that tack is the best approach to take when dealing with repeat offenders, of which there were several at Florida under the Meyer regime.
To suggest that asking questions about Meyer’s tenure at Florida is blaming him for Hernandez’s actions later in life is an exaggeration that simplifies and misrepresents what I and so many others are now writing. (See: The beginning of this column.)
This is a site that has covered the Southeastern Conference objectively for five years. Hernandez played at an SEC school under a coach who had a reputation for looking the other way when his players got into trouble. I can assure you, I would have written the same things had Hernandez gotten into his current mess after playing for any other SEC coach whose program had been the subject of so many off-the-field scrapes with so little punishment handed out in response.
It’s not unfair in the least to question what a coach knew about his players’ activities and how he responded to them. Did the coach use a look-the-other-way policy to keep his players on the field? See? That’s a fair question. Here’s another: Did the coach try to teach his players right from wrong by taking away the one and only currency that matters to NFL wannabes at big-time programs — playing time?
I’m not even talking about dismissal from the team here (though in some cases at Florida such punishment appeared warranted). To dismiss a player is to throw him out and not provide any further help for him. Perhaps Meyer was heartsick over the prospect of doling out such a harsh punishment. Fine. Then go the softer route and take away some game time. But at least make it real game time.
Want to get a kid’s attention, let him practice with his teammates for three straight weeks and then sit out for three consecutive Saturdays. Opportunities to win over pro scouts and star on national television would be lost. That is a punishment that would likely get an athlete’s attention. That might help teach a young man that there are consequences for bad behavior.
Meyer, more often than not, chose not to go that route. Instead, he’d hand out a one-game suspension against a tomato can, lie to the media and fans about the real reason behind a player’s disappearance, and then — perhaps — invite the kid over to read the Good Book.
There’s nothing wrong with the latter, but I wouldn’t count on it to make up for the former.
The MrSEC.com story from the 27th was headlined: “Hernandez Gun Photo Punctuates Meyer’s Shameful Disciplinary Record At UF.” In case you haven’t been keeping up, everyone from The New York Times to ProFootballTalk.com has indeed been taking a look back at Meyer’s record at Florida and asking what he knew, when he knew it, and how he reacted to it. Columnists across the nation have pointed out — as we did back on the 27th — that Meyer also let Chris Rainey back on his Gator team after that star player sent a threatening text to an ex-girlfriend. Rainey was later released from his NFL contract by the Pittsburgh Steelers after he was arrested for slapping a girlfriend. The famous quote from Janoris Jenkins — a star corner who was booted by Will Muschamp for repeated off-field incidents — has also popped up time and again in national pieces: “If Coach Meyer were still coaching, I’d still be playing for the Gators. Coach Meyer knows what it takes to win.”
Hey, that’s not the media talking, that’s one of Meyer’s own.
Dooley’s column claimed that “Meyer tried to point Hernandez on (the) right path.” Does anyone doubt that? Of course he wanted Hernandez to straighten up and succeed in life. But did he go about aiding Hernandez in the best way possible or did he try to help the player in a way that would keep him on the field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium? Were a one-game, school-mandated, let’s-not-call-it-a-suspension suspension and some Bible study sessions really going to turn around a kid who’d already had numerous off-field issues?
Sorry, but those are fair questions. Matter of fact, is there anyone out there who doesn’t think Meyer has probably asked himself, “Could I have done more?” since Hernandez’s arrest? He’s not inhuman. He’s not evil. And he’s not to blame for another man’s actions.
But Meyer’s not been much of a disciplinarian, either. And whether the nice guy approach works best when it comes to troubled players like Hernandez is the question… and it’s a fair one.
(Sidnote #1 — This is my favorite reader comment from under our initial column: “Maybe you are a liberal that believes others can be blamed, but unless a person takes ownership of themselves no amount of intervention makes a difference.” I’m not sure what being liberal or conservative has to do with this — other than telling us that the poster dislikes about 50% of the nation — but if “no amount of intervention makes a difference,” why have laws? Why have speed limits? Why have rules at school or at home? I’m far from the Lord High Executioner when it comes to handing out punishments, but to me, a three- or four-game suspension against good opponents would be more likely to bring about change in a college football player’s actions than family night at the coach’s house. Also, there’s nothing that says you can’t do both. Unless…
Sidenote #2 — Dooley writes that Meyer “had been having Bible study classes in his home with Hernandez.” As silly as it seems, the NCAA says that it’s an extra benefit for a coach to provide a student-athlete with “a meal other than in your home on special infrequent occasions (e.g., Thanksgiving, birthday).” Maybe the Meyers didn’t offer Hernandez food when he dropped in or maybe those Bible study sessions weren’t as frequent as Dooley suggested, but there does seem to be an NCAA compliance question there. Which is obviously absurd considering this coach was trying to help this particular player.)