FORT WAYNE – In the end, Bobby Cox put the book down.
He didnt throw it. He didnt go looking for a thicker book (Crime and Punishment?) and throw it. He threw, I dont know, a magazine instead.
The verdict is in for South Side and Indianapolis Tech in the wake of their disgraceful brawl in Indy last Friday, and no one will walk the Green Mile. The two head coaches, Eddie Fields and Emil Ekiyor, got a one-game sitdown. The two assistants who threw gasoline on the fire instead of behaving like the grownups theyre alleged to be got the rest of the season off. A bunch of players got one-game suspensions, and everyone has to go to sportsmanship school, which might be the harshest penalty of all.
The reactionaries will likely hate this. Saner people will, and should, applaud it.
If nothing else it displays a level of proportion notably lacking in American life today – just look at whats going on in Washington – and for that, Cox, the commissioner of the Indiana High School Athletic Association, is to be commended. If the situation got badly out of hand last Friday night, it didnt do so out of any willful intent. And where there was an egregious lack of control, the perpetrators (assistant coaches Dan Muchler of South and Angelo Muhammad of Tech) were properly smacked down for it.
It was a hard play out of bounds that escalated to an event it shouldnt have, Cox told Indianapolis media Tuesday. I cant condone it, but you know how (teenage) kids play with emotion and coaches coach with passion? Events like this occur, and we have to deal with them swiftly.
They do. He did. End of story.
And as for the more extreme measures that will no doubt be lobbied for by some
Cox likely will draw fire from those quarters for not going that way, for not looking at the video and banishing the two assistants for life and the head coaches for life and ending the season outright for both South and Tech. That this would serve no useful purpose except to satisfy inflamed emotions is something Cox understands that they dont. That it would be patently unjust given the meager evidence available, he also understands.
If you werent there, and even if you were, meting out appropriate justice is a tricky deal in this instance. Ive watched the video half a dozen times, and I cant tell you for sure to what extent an individual players actions inflamed the situation. With the exception of the two assistants getting into it just when everything seemed to have died down, individual blame is a hard thing to pin down.
And thats not what this is about anyway. Its about making sure everyone learns the lesson without destroying their ability to show what theyve learned.
You can blame anybody you like, but thats not the issue, Cox said Tuesday. Placing blame doesnt solve anything to do with sportsmanship.
That doesnt mean you condone what happened, but it does acknowledge that there were human beings involved, not automatons. It is, as Cox noted, football. Its a passionate game that feeds off the rawest of emotions at times. You cant play it with any degree of success otherwise.
With it, however, comes the responsibility of properly harnessing it. Its a delicate balance, particularly with 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kids. Youre asking hormonal teens for impulse control in a game that is hardly conducive to it.
That said, what happened last Friday cannot happen. Because if it does the extreme measures will be the only measures left.
For now, though, they arent. And thank God for that.