KEZI-9 News of Eugene is one of many Oregon sites (Oregon Live, KATU) reporting that Oregon running back LaMichael James was arrested (expand the first group) in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. The frightening phrase from the report is what James has been charged with: "strangulation, assault-4 and menacing." But it's the first line of KEZI's report -- "Another Oregon Duck football player gets into trouble" -- that tells you where this is going.
The rush to seize on a few boneheaded criminal acts by college athletes and declare that a team is in disarray is a race all the world's sportswriters get to righteously run. Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel has the early lead on this one.
â‡¥From bad to worse at Oregon: LaMichael James arrested on domestic violence charge
Bad was apparently Jeremiah Masoli and Garrett Embry being implicated in a laptop theft that has since produced only enough evidence for Oregon Live to call it "flimsy" in a headline, and increasingly seems like a "he said, he said."
Worse is what James is charged with, and fairly so. His are much more serious charges than Masoli and Embry faced, certainly, and domestic violence is the sort of thing that gets players tossed off teams.
But nothing has been proven in this case, and nothing proven in the earlier one. These are allegations, and the players involved deserve at least a modicum of innocence in the court of public opinion, seeing as they will retain full innocence, legally, until pleas or trials.
They might not get it.
It's a lot easier for writers covering college athletes to write about charges, because charges make headlines and convictions rarely happen. Programs have high-powered defense attorneys waiting in the shadows, and the lion's share of charges get dropped after the players show up on the Fulmer Cup leaderboard and drag down their programs' good name. But slapping bracelets on or taking a mug shot of a player is usually enough to brand him (or her) for life, or at least a collegiate career.
I'd love to see numbers on how many charges of college athletes turn into convictions, but I'd bet it's less than half. I'd also like to see similar stats broken down demographically, but, hey, that might take time and ruin knee-jerk reactions.
Oregon's program and head coach Chip Kelly shouldn't be raked over the coals for this, either. These players are not minors, and the athletic department, coaching staff, and university are not parents. Tarring a program for the independent actions of a player, especially with the old tricks of implying that coaches are recruiting unsavory elements or looking the other way for scofflaws, just seems like a bit of easy narrative-building in the off-season.
After all, last year's dominant off-season narrative had plenty to do with Urban Meyer's outlaw Florida Gators, who spent much of the spring and summer in the mouths of pundits who could not reach for the flamethrowers fast enough.
Oregon is a long way from the dismaying numbers of Florida arrests. But the profiles of Masoli and James are higher than those of any Gator charged with anything, save maybe Carlos Dunlap. And with a third incident (Update: Rob Beard's fourth-degree assault charge, for example; HT: SPORTSbyBROOKS), Oregon's problems with the law will become a trend, and that trend will become a well-trod path for columnists with a little spleen to vent.
Oregon should only hope that they can follow Florida's on-field success from last year. Wins tend to obscure stories about off-field struggles, and coaches doing their jobs and putting together competitive football teams overshadows and perceived lack of paternal efficacy.
It's hard to prop up the "These players are hoodlums and the program is a zoo!" narrative when autumn rolls around, everyone is in uniform, and the team starts steamrolling. I'll guess that's what will happen in Oregon.
But even if it doesn't, we should probably refrain from turning the arrests of college-aged men into a reason for columnists to scratch out vituperative screeds.â†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.