The arrest this week of three University of Charleston basketball players is disturbing.
Sure, college kids get in trouble all the time, but these “student athletes” are accused of jumping two men outside a Charleston bar early Sunday morning and robbing them. Charleston police say Terrell Lipkins, Robbie Dreher and Quincy Washington are also “persons of interest” in the severe beating and robbery of a Boone County man last week.
These are serious crimes, and it’s important to note that the three have a presumption of innocence. Still, this is an embarrassment for the University of Charleston, a respected state institution.
Normally when these kinds of stories break, colleges go into media lockdown. Schools and coaches have practiced methods of dealing with such controversies.
They say they have no comment or that it’s an internal matter or that they’ll wait until the police finish their investigation. The hypocrisy is that the schools rely upon, and even expect, the press to gush at their success, but then cooperate in a conspiracy of silence at their failures.
For that reason, the response by University of Charleston officials is refreshing and encouraging.
Within hours after the arrests, President Ed Welch had released a categorical statement condemning the alleged crimes, adding that the students had been kicked off the basketball team and out of their residence halls.
Later in the day, Welch and Coach Mark Downey held a no-holds-barred news conference where they answered questions from newspaper, TV and radio reporters.
It was particularly awkward when Downey and Welch had to explain how the school had recruited Dreher, even though he had left Winthrop University after being charged with third-degree criminal conduct. He later pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and battery.
Welch said the review of Dreher’s background was “much more than we’ve ever done for anyone else we’ve admitted.” (I’m not sure if that’s reassuring or more troubling.)
Both Welch and Downey apologized to the university and the city of Charleston, and Downey took responsibility.
“I’m around these kids quite a bit and I take responsibility,” Downey said.
As he should. Now he and President Welch need to decide what kind of basketball program they’re going to have to represent their university.
The press conference lasted about a half-hour, with Welch and Downey taking every question. Welch made sure to ask if the press had any more questions before he left.
You can look at the picture of the two on the Metronews website and see that it was painful and embarrassing for them, but they did it. They didn’t hide behind a press spokesman or send out a feckless statement.
It’s doubtful colleges and universities across the country took note, and even if they did, most would not be willing to venture from the safe cocoon of “no comment” when bad news breaks.