Sunday, June 06, 2010

Kid Mistakes

Don't condemn Jewel Hampton and Jordan Bernstine for their arrests in Iowa City early Saturday morning. I know a few Hawkeye fans that favor a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to scrapes with the law.  That's asinine. Maybe it's because I know a lot of former college athletes, or maybe it's because I lived in Iowa City for four years and know the culture, but I almost consider off the field incidents to be like injuries... you have to expect a few from time to time.  It's unrealistic to think 100 members of a BCS football team will "toe the line" 365 days a year. 

Now, two or three years ago, the Iowa football team had a problem. Many of the off the field incidents were not simple misdemeanors, which is what Hampton and Bernstine are accused of.  I'm not sticking up for players accused of possessing/selling illegal drugs or sexual assault.  Kirk Ferentz was a little slow to recognize, back then, that he had a serious problem.  But Ferentz did address the problems eventually, and even with these latest arrests, Iowa's off the field incidents have slowed to a trickle.  And Ferentz deserves some credit for that.

Based on what has come to light thus far, Hampton and Bernstine were drunk in a bar on a Friday during a time when school was not in session.  Hampton got into a argument/fight (haven't seen any report of injuries) and Bernstine is guilty of not walking away and shutting his mouth when he should have.  These are kid mistakes, and since the spring of 2008, most of the off the field incidents involing the Hawkeyes have also been kid mistakes (public intox, interference with official acts, public urination).

I don't think most fans realize the effect playing football at a high level has on these athletes.  Football is a violent game, and playing it requires a mindset and an intensity that is abnormal.  And these are 18-22 year old kids that are not yet fully mature mentally and emotionally.  At times, some of them will struggle to turn off the "switch" when they walk off the field.  They deserve a few chances to figure it out.

Based on what I know about the incident, and based on Ferentz's track record with discipline, a one-game suspension is the maximum penalty either player will receive.  Frankly, I'll be surprised if either player misses a game.  I'll throw a qualifyer in though... Ferentz sort of keeps a mental file on each of his players.  That file includes not only scrapes with the law, but also behind the scenes stuff that the public rarely hears about (skipping class, late for practice/meetings, etc.)  If either player was in Ferentz's doghouse before this incident, then the punishment could involve game suspensions.  Most likely though, I'm guessing the punishment will involve Hampton and Bernstine running the Kinnick stairs until they puke, and both will be in uniform against Eastern Illinois.

Bottom line, for all the reasons I mentioned above, very few college athletic programs have zero tolerance policies.  What do you think that would do to recruiting?  Any kid that only wants to eat, sleep, study, and play football usually enrolls at Army or Navy.  And last I checked, Iowa City was nothing like West Point.


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