COLUMN: Remember the lessons of Vick, Roethlisberger and Clemons before judging Washington

Monday, September 20, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 8:26 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 20, 2010

Whether you’re a football fan or not, in Columbia, we all have a little Tiger (bigger for others) inside that brings us all together. There’s something about the magic that happens on Faurot Field that is simply intoxicating. That’s why all the recent off-the-field distractions are raising more questions, producing less answers, and letting judgment be thrown around entirely too easily.

Some members of the MU football family, team and coaching staff have had some serious run-ins with the law in these past few months, with the most controversial charges surrounding former tailback Derrick Washington. Currently awaiting separate arraignments on a Class C felony charge of deviate sexual assault stemming from an incident in June, and a misdemeanor charge on suspicion of third-degree domestic assault, Washington was indefinitely suspended from the football team and now, is no longer enrolled at MU for the fall semester.

This rapid rise and fall of Washington evokes three names: Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick and Ricky Clemons.

Roethlisberger, quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, just had his league suspension reduced from six games to four, after violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Roethlisberger has been accused of two separate sexual assaults in the past two years, not including a third potential sexual assault accusation where the supposed victim did not come forward.

Granted, he was neither arrested nor charged in either situation, though a civil suit was filed following the first incident.

According to an ESPN report, Steelers President Art Rooney said, “Ben has done a good job this summer of growing as the person that he needs to be, both on and off the field. I am confident that Ben is committed to continuing in this positive direction.”

Really? Roethlisberger was ordered to undergo “comprehensive behavioral evaluation by medical professionals.” However, I didn’t know you have to undergo counseling for being innocent, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or associating with people you shouldn’t have — all claims Roethlisberger has made. So, what exactly was he being evaluated on?

Was Michael Vick, former quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons and now a Philadelphia Eagle, afforded the same “comprehensive behavioral evaluation by medical professionals” with his 19-month penitentiary stay in Leavenworth, Kan.?

Yes, Vick admitted guilt and accepted plea agreements in both his federal and state cases for dog fighting, prompting his jail sentence, in addition to two months of home confinement and three years supervised probation. Yes, Vick knowingly gambled while fighting, torturing and killing dogs.

No, Roethlisberger was never charged in either incident, but we can ponder if he was charged, might he have accepted a plea bargain? And no, we don’t know what happened in Lake Tahoe, Nev., or Milledgeville, Ga.

I won’t venture into the whole humans versus dogs firestorm, but I will ask, did Vick’s punishment —prison, bankruptcy, complete loss of livelihood, embarrassment, mockery, and a form of banishment — fit the crime? By no means am I absolving Vick of his transgressions or excusing his horrendous behavior, I’m just seeking a little perspective.

Let’s explore some of the stark differences between Roethlisberger and Vick such as; one pleading guilty and the other not even charged, one with championships and the other without, one white and one black. I can’t help but believe that race played some factor in the public’s opinion, and furthermore in their damnation of one player and not the other.

If Vick’s fall from grace is a direct result of his admitted guilt in a court of law (though he did his time), while Roethlisberger remains in the public’s good graces as a direct result of his lack of guilt, as determined by that same legal system (twice), something just doesn’t add up.

It doesn’t add up because the same Vick dynamic is happening to Washington, though his story and situation is more along the lines of Roethlisberger. Washington, facing a sexual assault like Roethlisberger, in addition to the domestic violence charge, has been arrested, though not formally arraigned; yet the public has already begun passing judgment.

Unfortunately our opinions—we the public judge and jury, could be ruining this young man’s life. This isn’t the NFL, and he doesn’t have a personal relations person to redeem his image once the smoke clears. If he’s found guilty of these two incidents in the court of law, then the public has the right to banish him like we did Vick. But until the courts decide, why isn’t Washington being afforded the same non-judgment that was afforded to Roethlisberger?

If there is a reasonable difference between the two beyond the considerations of fame, fortune and race, I’m not seeing it.

Before Washington unenrolled at MU while still on scholarship, and before any verdict was handed down, the MU athletic department seemed to create a distance between itself and Washington. Did the athletics department try to reach out to Washington with some Roethlisberger-style behavior evaluation following the June incident? Did the athletics department invest in the 21-year-old as a person, and not just as a dollar sign? Or, are we so scarred from Clemons that we dare not let another athletic debacle happen, especially not involving another black athlete.

Clemons, as you may remember, is the former MU men’s basketball player, found guilty of two misdemeanors for choking his girlfriend. He also had a series of ridiculous jailhouse conversations with the wife of then-University President Elson S. Floyd, Carmento Floyd; allegedly took money from coaches; and helped seal the deal for the NCAA placing the program on probation for three years.

We should be apprehensive after surviving the Clemons incident, but not paranoid or righteous in regards to our current treatment of Washington.

Just like Vick, Clemons and Roethlisberger, I’m not sparing Washington from these accusations that could be true, and therefore beyond reprehensible. And if so, he will deserve any punishment plus some handed to him. But the key word at this point is, accusations.

He hasn’t been found guilty (or even formally appeared before a judge yet), so let’s pause in our castration and let the law do its job.

Jennifer M. Wilmot is a graduate student at MU and a Columbia resident.


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Ellis Smith September 20, 2010 | 7:32 a.m.

How Ricky Clemons got into MU is at least as interesting as anything he did while there.

Since you mentioned Elson Floyd, be advised that Floyd from the day he arrived here treated ALL FOUR CAMPUSES of this silly "system" as EQUAL, regardless of campus size or age. I suspect you'll agree that treating folks equally is a good thing. Floyd even took the time to attend Division II sports events! Folks at the Kansas City, Rolla and St. Louis campuses liked Floyd.

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