By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) There’s rarely justice when it comes to crime on America’s college campuses, particularly when it comes to violence against women and more specifically when the alleged perpetrator is an athlete — a member of a protected class that can act with impunity.
And while it undoubtedly damns with faint praise to acknowledge proper handling of such an issue if and when it happens, so be it.
The University of Minnesota fired head football coach Tracy Claeys and almost his entire staff Tuesday. The decision was almost entirely due to his public backing of players in their wrongheaded protest over the school’s investigation of a sexual assault that resulted in the suspension of 10 Gophers players. In the midst of the mutiny, Claeys tweeted, “Have never been more proud of our kids.”
These “kids” were aligning themselves against an alleged victim, misunderstanding completely the concept of due process, proving ignorant of the difference between criminal prosecution and university policy pursuant to federal law and only relenting when they finally cared enough to ask what the inquest actually concluded. It was a loud and insulting national embarrassment, and the coach paid the price for taking the wrong side.
This almost never happens, and a realist could note correctly that it might not have gone down this way here if Claeys were someone else or if the team had been 19-0 on his watch instead of 11-8.
He might then have bosses scrambling instead to protect him from backlash and protests and national media doing public relations work for him. We saw plenty of the latter in evidence Monday when ESPN was all too happy to use football to excuse the unspeakable, first with their shameful framing of Penn State’s on-field success as some kind of counterbalance to decades of child rape knowingly facilitated by Joe Paterno and the football program and shortly thereafter with Brent Musburger’s effusive praise of Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon and his entitlement to a “second chance.”
Mixon broke a woman’s face in multiple places with a punch in a restaurant in 2014, resulting in a misdemeanor assault conviction. But Musburger wasn’t really troubled by that, instead expressing hope that Mixon would still have a successful career in the NFL. There was no criticism of Sooners teammates mock-punching Mixon on the sidelines to celebrate one of his touchdowns, either. A crime as comedy.
That’s what revenue-generating sports usually do to upset the balance in such situations, trampling victims with the false proportions of scoreboards versus real life. Those many boys brutalized by Jerry Sandusky with Paterno’s tacit approval don’t care about a 10-yard run by Saquon Barkley. And one can’t begin to imagine Amelia Molitor’s feelings watching the Musburger debacle after she was harassed on campus for being attacked by Mixon.
It all gets turned inside-out in the cruelest ways almost every time, so we must continue to call attention to those who try to act correctly when given the chance.
Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle referred to the Claeys firing as a “very difficult decision,” but it shouldn’t have been and likely wasn’t. The football coach went against the school and alleged victim for no apparent good reason, reinforcing and owning the stupidity of his players instead of leading and educating them.
Those players are now looking heartless and unenlightened, Claeys is looking for work and the University of Minnesota is looking to the future as at least one example of some kind of right thing in college sports.