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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

From - "On What Matters Now"


Monday, September 3

On What Matters Now

At least, the police mugshots of Jeff Robinson and Shawn Taggert did not make the front page of the Commercial Appeal -- though their faces being connected to another story about Tiger Basketball players being arrested is perhaps the start of Coach John Calipari's idea of punishment.

An quote from Sunday's press conference:

"Obviously the two that have mug shots now in the newspaper, that’s the start of their punishment. Whatever they were involved in or did or didn’t do, it doesn’t matter now. They’ve got a mug shot that everybody’s publicly going to see. And I would imagine that it’s going to be on possibly the front page of the newspaper if not the front of sports. That’s the start of theirs. Until we get all the information out, the only thing I can tell you is that it’s going to be a firm hand."
To be sure, Calipari is in a difficult position. As he noted, families entrust him with the safety of their children. They are his responsibility, and, despite warnings to be careful, these kids did what kids do: they didn't listen. So, he came down with a hard hand: no more nightclubs and implemented a curfew. Oh, as CA's Geoff Calkins notes, he deputized an entire city to help keep his players honest.

After all, with the Tigers ranked as preseason No. 1 and possessing one of the deepest teams ever, a potential National Championship hangs in the balance.

That's the kind of thing that could not only change the University of Memphis but alter the fabric of the city itself.

And that's a message that Calipari is driving home to his players. Do they want to be seen as role models and revered men of lore -- or as just another athlete in a police mug shot? In Memphis, the latter takes on extra significance because they also become just another black athlete in a police mugshot. That's all the more reason to avoid any trouble. But I digress.

What really happened at the Plush Club?

According to the police account, officers responded at 3:36 a.m. to a "large disturbance" outside the Plush Club that had spilled out into the street. Taggart, a 6-11 forward from Richmond, Va., had been accused by club security of starting the original disturbance -- that accusation was proven false, according to the report -- and detained by police.

Taggart, 22, then began yelling obscenities, "causing the large crowd to get further agitated and (they) began closing in on officers, trying to pull (the) defendant away from officers, while yelling obscenities, causing the officers to fear for their safety," according to the report.

Robinson, 19, approached a police officer "with balled fists in an extremely aggressive manner, ignoring commands to stop and back up" while also yelling obscenities, according to the police account.
According to Calkins, the affidavit said Robinson yelled, "...'bleep the police, this is bleep, man.'" The police used a chemical agent to take Robinson down.

In my opinion, police reports -- especially those describing an officer's use of force -- are not reliable at all. It's quite possible that Taggert and Robinson were falsely accused of being involved in the disturbance and perhaps overreacted to those false accusations.

Police are naturally going to handle the biggest perceived threats first in order to gain control of the crowd. With that in mind, one can see how a police officer might have felt threatened, considering how muscular and tall Taggert and Robinson are.

As Calipari said, imagine being 6'8 (Taggert is 6'11) and trying to get out of that situation. Not gonna happen.

So, it's best to avoid it altogether.

Calipari is so right, which is why I'm not mad at him for jumping on the situation BEFORE he even talked to Taggart and Robinson or BEFORE any facts, including information that might exonerate the players, came to light. If he did throw these kids under a bus, then they should consider it a life-affirming lesson.

I'm just saying, one has to respect Calipari's decision not to shield those players from the harsh reaction to their own actions. People are now calling them "thugs" just like family members call an obese relative "fat." It's home-tested psychology to induce behavioral modification but name-calling only makes things worse.

Still, the tough-love paradox is understandable in order to put greater emphasis on what's at risk -- like healthy living, the prospect of death, or a National Championship -- if nothing changes.

Again, the Tigers are ranked No. 1. All eyes are upon them. Their every move will be scrutinized. Right or wrong. Get used to it, kiddos.

This is not high school.

This is one step away from the real world.

Most importantly, this is recognizing that athletes, especially African American male ones, can't afford to take any off-the-court risks that might eliminate their dreams (and those of others) in an instant.


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