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Published: Friday, 5/27/2011

COMMENTARY

Bravo to Beckman for standing firm

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

It has not been a good week for the University of Toledo's football team, to say the least. Two players ran afoul of the law and both were dismissed from the squad by coach Tim Beckman.

If a coach wants to leave the door cracked for a player to return at some point, he will announce an "indefinite suspension." In both of these cases, UT issued statements that the players had been "removed from the team" by Beckman.

That is definitive and permanent. It is not to say that Beckman should -- or will -- give the boot to every miscreant. It is to say he felt he had enough information on these two cases to make the decision he made.

His program's image is important to Beckman and that public perception took a hit with two negative headlines in as many days. But he has sent a message, directly to his players and indirectly to UT fans, that he demands a certain standard of behavior.

One of the players was the sixth-string tight end. Not to make light, but who even knew the team had a sixth-string tight end? The other was a key defensive starter. The cases were similar, both bringing charges of felony assault, and the coach's verdict was consistent, regardless of the player's standing on the depth chart.

Good for Beckman.

Anytime there are situations like these I am reminded of Oregon running back LaMichael James who, before the 2010 season, was charged with menacing, strangulation, and assault of a young woman. He eventually pled to lesser charges and was given a whole one-game suspension. (The Ducks managed to squeak past New Mexico 72-0 without him.) James went on to lead the nation in rushing, win the Doak Walker Award as college football's top running back, and finished third in the Heisman voting.

Ever wonder what the Oregon coach might have done had James been the sixth-string tight end?

We don't have to wonder so much how Beckman thinks. Good for him.

Jeff Benedict, a college professor and author who writes occasionally for SI.com, was involved in two investigative reports last year. In one, he found that 70 college football players had been arrested and charged with either felonies or misdemeanors involving violence, weapons or substance abuse between January 1 and August 31, 2010.

In a more recent study, conducted by Sports Illustrated and CBS News, criminal background checks were made on all 2,835 players who were on last season's opening-day rosters of SI's preseason top 25 college football teams. The survey found more than 200 players had been either arrested or cited by police a total of 277 times, including 56 arrests for what are considered to be violent crimes. One out of 14 had a police record.

There is a two-pronged problem at work here. First, football is forged on a culture of violence. Players are taught to hit and hit hard; then go lift weights so they can hit harder. Big hits are routine. Violent hits are often celebrated. The trick is a player's ability to flip the switch to off when he leaves the field to turn back into a normal student and citizen.

Secondly, talented athletes, from the time they're old enough to bounce a ball or put on pads, are coddled to the point they develop a sense of entitlement. They are special and someone will always be there to fix a bad grade or smooth over a bad decision. They are rarely held accountable for their actions.

It will take more coaches like Beckman to send the message that they are indeed accountable and that bad behavior won't be tolerated.

Good for him.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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