I suspect every college sports information director has in their computer a template for a news release to use when an athlete gets into trouble. The text may vary slightly from school to school, but the fundamentals are the same: “Coach (insert name here) is aware of the situation and is gathering the facts. The matter will be handled internally.”
After that, SID offices and coaches typically go dark. Sometimes they cite student-privacy concerns, but more often they expect a compliant press to stop asking questions.
Marshall University first rolled out a canned response Wednesday after word that running back Steward Butler had been charged with two counts of battery for allegedly yelling anti-gay slurs at two men he saw kissing and then assaulting them.
But within hours Marshall had toughened up its stand. University interim president Gary White issued a statement saying “violent, bigoted behavior” will not be tolerated, while Athletics Director Mike Hamrick said Butler had been suspended indefinitely.
It was only a short time later that Hamrick tweeted, “Coach (Doc) Holliday and I have decided to dismiss Steward Butler from our program in light of additional information regarding his charges.”
The university did not elaborate on the additional information, but officials clearly felt, either because of information from witnesses or a video of the incident that surfaced, that they had enough facts to justify booting Butler, even before the criminal charges were adjudicated.
Good for them.
The story gained national attention because of the circumstances. Did that cause Marshall to act more quickly? Perhaps, but in doing so the university contains the damage.
Interestingly, earlier this week the Daily Mail’s Derek Redd quoted Coach Holliday talking about character. “When I talk to our football team, the last thing I tell them every time they walk off the football field is every decision you make has consequences.”
Holliday (and Hamrick) backed up the talk by making quick work of a player whose behavior failed to live up to expectations.
Two years ago, police arrested one University of Charleston basketball player and identified two other players as “persons of interest” in the severe beating and robbery of a Boone County man. Within hours, university president Ed Welch had condemned their actions, kicked them off the team and out of their residence hall and held a news conference with the coach to answer questions.
Colleges should not rush to judgment, but when they have enough facts to make a determination about the student’s conduct, they should act decisively. Criminal defendants have rights, but playing college athletics on scholarship is a privilege, not a right; different rules apply.
Marshall and the University of Charleston reacted swiftly and appropriately, rejecting the normal obfuscation that accompanies college athletics on behavior issues. That should be the template.