The Suspensions: Too Much, Too Little, or Just Right?
by Will Stewart,, 11/8/96

Obviously, with the Blacksburg Brawl indictments that came down this week, I had to write a piece and say something. There are so many different facets to this occurrence and this case that you can discuss - it impacts the players, the coaches, the fans, the alumni, the administrators, and the school in so many different ways that it's hard to know where to begin talking about it, though.

I think we're all beyond the point where we want to vent our outrage and disappointment at the string of arrests and embarrassing incidents that have occurred over the last year. I think I read in the paper that in this last year, including the Brawl indictments, 20 players have been arrested for various incidents. That number is mind-boggling, especially when you consider that Tech only has about 80-85 players on scholarship at any given time. As a percentage, that means that roughly 25% of the players have been arrested in the last year.

Remember the old freshman orientation line about, "Look to the left of you and look to the right of you. Four years from now, one of you won't be here"? Can you imagine someone sitting down with next year's crop of football players and saying, "Look to the left of you, look to the right of you, and look behind you. Next year, one of you will get arrested"?

It numbs the mind, and I'm beyond even thinking about how I feel about that anymore. The damage is done. We can't make the arrests and incidents go away.

The focus now is on how we fix our house and set things right again. The administration (President Paul Torgersen and AD Dave Braine) and the football coach (Frank Beamer) are under a microscope now, as the fans and alumni and students watch them to see how they're going to fix this mess and restore dignity to the university...if it can be restored.

Along those lines, let's get to the point and talk about the suspensions that Beamer laid on the players who were indicted. In a nutshell, those who were indicted on misdemeanor charges received a one-game suspension, and those indicted on felony charges received a season suspension.

This action on the part of Beamer split Hokie fans and alumni into three camps:

  1. those who think the suspensions weren't harsh enough
  2. those who think the suspensions were too harsh
  3. those who think the suspensions were just right

Kind of a "Goldilocks" thing going on there, isn't it?

Not Harsh Enough!

The first group is fed up with the "activities" of the football team in the last year, and they want to clean house. Throw the bums out! I am reminded of the line from the movie Network: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

To these people I say, be reasonable.

I understand your anger. When I first heard about the brawl back in early September, I was furious, so I know where you're coming from. But remove your emotions from the equation and look at it pragmatically. Here's a couple of tidbits you should chew on:

  1. Jay Hagood, who was present at the Brawl and played the role of peacemaker, is on record as saying that at least one of the players who was indicted was trying to break it up, just like Hagood was. Would you want to kick that person off the team, only to find out later that they were innocent?

    Remember, we are an "innocent-until-proven-guilty" society, and nothing has been proven yet here. Contrast this with the case of Walter Ford, who surrendered and was undoubtedly guilty in the shoplifting incident recently. There was apparently no gray area, and boom, he was gone off the team. In the case of the Brawl, there's a lot of gray areas that a simple grand jury hearing doesn't bring to light.

  2. Hypothetical scenario: let's say Beamer decided to kick Cornell Brown off the team, and later, when the case is heard in court, Cornell is acquitted. However, the season is over by then, and the damage is done. In the next NFL draft, Cornell isn't taken until the second round, and the teams that pass on him say words to the effect of, "He's trouble. He got kicked off the team in college." He signs for $90,000 a year instead of the $250,000 or more per year he would have gotten as a first-round, "non-head-case," draft choice.

    Think Cornell's lawyers would come knocking on Tech's door?

So relax. Quit foaming at the mouth. Let's wait for the trial, and then, if anybody's found guilty, we can throw them to the wolves.

Too Harsh!

"Good lord!" this group shouts. "How can you suspend a guy who hasn't had his day in court?!? Remember, we're an "innocent-until-proven-guilty" society, so you've got no right punishing a guy who hasn't even been found guilty yet!"

To these people, I say, once again, be reasonable. After the first few incidents, Beamer talked to the team and asked them to stay out of trouble. From what I've heard, he actually said something like, "If you see trouble developing, you get away from it as fast as possible."

They didn't listen. He talked to them and thought he could trust them, and they didn't listen. Beamer tried to treat his team like a family. He sat down with them, told them his feelings and desires, and I'm sure they all looked him in the eye and nodded solemnly, and said, "Yes, Coach, we understand. We'll do that."

And when their chance came to stay away from trouble, they didn't take it. They didn't stay away from it. And now, if what Jay Hagood is saying is true, at least one "peacemaker" will be sitting on the sidelines during the ECU game, wishing he had run away instead of getting involved, just like the coach said.

The talking and cajoling and "family" treatment obviously didn't work. So something had to be done. With the fans and alumni and media breathing down his neck, and with the players ignoring his pleas, Beamer had to take some sort of action. Doing nothing was not an option.

A year ago, Frank Beamer would have agreed with those of you who fit into this group. He would have said, "I like to let these things play themselves out in court." He did precisely that when Druck and Del Ricco got into their scuffle last winter. But the stakes are much higher now, and I repeat myself, doing nothing was not an option.

Again, let's take the pragmatic approach: if Beamer doesn't take action, a lot of wealthy but disgusted alumni take their dollars elsewhere. If you're Frank Beamer and you want that fancy new Merryman Center built with donation dollars, you have to keep that group happy. You have to do something. But for the reasons outlined above, you can't be too harsh.

Just Right!

Have you guessed yet that I fall into this group?

I think Beamer and company struck the perfect balance between the two extremes of doing nothing and kicking the indicted players off the team. By suspending all of those involved, he decimated his defensive line the week before a very important game, proving that to him, the integrity of the team is more important that the won-loss record.

Did you listen to the very carefully worded statements made by Braine, Beamer, and Torgersen? They essentially said, "These suspensions do not indicate that we feel the players are guilty. We just feel that they made the mistake of putting themselves in a situation where they could compromise themselves and the football team and the university. Therefore, we are punishing the players."

I think that sums it up perfectly and is the right thing to say. Basically, they were saying, "As public figures and representatives of our school, our players should be at home in bed at 2:00 in the morning, not running around in the streets and being involved in a fight." I'm one of those people who think athletes should be held up to a higher standard, because they are getting a free ride, and they are being given the privilege of representing our university on the football field and on TV.

I know a lot of you disagree with me on that point, so don't bomb me with email. And far be it from me to take the moral high ground, because when I was young and in my prime, 2:00 A.M. was early. I was just getting started. But I wasn't a football player upon whose shoulders the responsibility of maintaining the image and prestige of a university had been placed.

It Ain't Over Yet

But just remember, this particular little tale is nowhere near complete. There is still a trial to be held, and all players involved will either be convicted or vindicated. Those of you thirsting for justice will get another chance then, if anybody is convicted. Those of you who think the suspensions are too harsh can bemoan the fact that innocent men were unjustly punished, if anybody is acquitted.

So there you have it. My Opinion. Now let's go play some football.


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