Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Terrible grace vs. just terrible

This week, you can't open the sports section without reading about the star-crossed relationships of 20-year-old college students and 50-something coaches.

In Baton Rouge, among the stately oaks and broad magnolias, police hauled in four LSU football players Tuesday for questioning about a bar brawl that left four men battered and bruised -- one of them with cracked vertebrae. Two of the players, including Tiger starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson, weren't even old enough to have a legal beer at the time.

The cops say somebody's going to face charges -- maybe even felony battery charges. The question now is who. Jefferson?

Some substitute who throws better punches than blocks? Some other among the 20 or so Tigers at the appropriately named bar -- Shady's -- Thursday night?

Po-po ain't done questioning the thirsty Tigers yet, according to
The Advocate:

The names of the men injured in the fight were not released. However, White said, the man who was knocked unconscious and suffered contusions to his head, nose and hands is a Marine.

White said four LSU football players implicated in the incident gave their statements to police Tuesday at State Police headquarters and gave investigators the names of at least a dozen witnesses.

The four players — senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson, 20; freshman wide receiver Jarvis Landry, 18; sophomore offensive tackle Chris Davenport, 21; and sophomore linebacker Josh Johns, 21 — met with police for about two hours, the chief said.

“They were quite gracious,” White said of the players. “They gave their statements willingly.”

Police spokesman Sgt. Don Stone said investigators will interview the witnesses the football players told them about.

“It’s possible we will talk to more football players,” he said. “Names were mentioned today (Tuesday).”

Stone said interviewing the additional witnesses could extend the police investigation five, possibly 10 days.

“This investigation is far from over,” he said. “We are still on a fact-finding mission.”

However, Stone added, based on facts investigators already have gathered, “there is a good chance that when the investigation is over arrests will be made” and that people could be booked with simple battery and second-degree battery.

Second-degree battery is a felony offense that carries a maximum five-year prison sentence upon conviction while simple battery is a misdemeanor.

LSU'S COACH, Les Miles, says he'll take action beyond extra running for the team as the situation sorts itself out. He won't say what, because LSU football coaches have their priorities -- like not tipping off No. 3 Oregon (Sept. 3, Cowboys Stadium) about personnel or the game plan.

The cynical among us are tempted to just chalk this up as "college sports today." Another typical day in the big-money, big-entitlement, BMOC world of 20-year-old jocks and their 50-something coaches.

Tempted. Tempted until another story presents itself -- one of a 50-something coach and her 20-year-old son.

This one comes out of Knoxville, Tenn., just a few hundred miles northeast of the underage beer and parking-lot brawls of Baton Rouge. Torn from the pages of
The Washington Post, it's Sally Jenkins' account of a women's basketball program, a devastating diagnosis, terrible grace and the unshakable bond between a mother and a son.

YOU WANT to know why Pat Summitt, leader of the Lady Vols the past 37 years, has won more games than any coach of either sex, anywhere? Here's a clue:

Last Thursday, Summitt, Barnett, and her 20-year-old son Tyler, who is a junior at the University of Tennessee, met with Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and Athletic Director Joan Cronan to inform them of her condition. Barnett warned Summitt that contractually school administrators had the right to remove her as head coach immediately. Instead, Cheek and Cronan listened to Summitt’s disclosure with tears streaming down their faces.

“You are now and will always be our coach,” Cheek told her. With the blessing of her university, she will continue to work for as long as she is able.

“Life is an unknown and none of us has a crystal ball,” Cronan says. “But I do have a record to go on. I know what Pat stands for: excellence, strength, honesty, and courage.”

To Barnett, Pat’s fight is characteristic; her determination to keep working, and also to act as a spokeswoman for Alzheimer’s, is not incompatible with the values she has always preached as a coach.

“If you go back to her speeches, and her discussions with players through the years, you see several things,” Barnett says. “One is absolute dedication. Two is an unwillingness ever to give up. And three is an absolute commitment to honesty. And in this challenge that she’s facing, she is displaying the exact traits that she’s always taught. . . .Pat is going to run this race to the very end.”


It wasn’t until August that the reality of her condition hit home. “There was a pretty long denial period,” Tyler says. “At first she was like, ‘I’m fine.’ ”

When the blow finally fell, it was heavy. Summitt had always been the caregiver: Friends, family and former players struggling physically or emotionally have always come to her house for comfort, a hot meal and soothing advice in that honeyed southern voice. “I want to go see Pat,” is a common refrain. It wasn’t easy to reverse the role, and to admit that she would need care.

In September 2006, not long after the death of her father, she separated from R.B. Summitt, her husband of 26 years. Some months later, she found herself immobilized by physical pain, and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Summitt rarely betrayed in public the toll of that disease, but there were occasions, before it was successfully controlled by medication, when her son had to help her put her socks on.

In between those traumas she suffered a shoulder separation — from fighting a raccoon — and was hospitalized twice, once for cellulitis, and once for dehydration and exhaustion. Still, for all of that, she managed to lead the Lady Vols to consecutive national championships in 2007 and 2008.

Through it all, there has always been a sense of centeredness in Summitt. She is like a marble pillar, ramrod straight, that seems to have stood for a thousand years, while everything around it falls.

“Everyone has always wanted to know what Pat’s really like,” DeMoss said. “The word I’ve always used is ‘resolve.’ Pat has more resolve than any one I’ve ever known. She has a deep, deep inner strength.”

But now she will need a different kind of counterintuitive strength. Surrender and acceptance have never come naturally to her, nor has admitting vulnerability. She has trouble even uttering the word Alzheimer’s. But she’s learning.

“We sat down and had a good talk, and realized that the only reason we even made it this far, was that we had each other,” Tyler says. “It started with her father passing away, and then the divorce, and the arthritis, and then the Alzheimer’s, and each of those things, I don’t know how anyone could go through them alone. So we figured out that as much as we wanted to be Superman and Wonder Woman, and take care of things alone, we needed each other.”

MEANTIME, down on the bayou, the LSU players' high-powered yet pro-bono attorney, Nathan Fisher, says his clients are "scared to death" and that they "cried in this meeting -- they are scared to death."

Did you get the picture that they're scared to death? Do you get the picture that I'm strangely unmoved, considering?

Would that Pat Summitt might have the sad satisfaction of knowing why she's facing a sentence impervious to the best efforts of the best lawyer money can't buy. Or, thus far, to the best efforts of the best doctors that money can.

And would that a 20-year-old kid at the University of Tennessee had nothing worse to worry about than the prospect of a jail time and the wasting of a collegiate football career.

Lord, have mercy.

No comments: