I had a piece mostly-written as of 3 PM yesterday. It was a children's book parody about how yesterday was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for Oregon sports, what with Rahim Cassell's DUI charge, De'Anthony Thomas firing his second agent in three months while his draft stock plummets, and three basketball players out of team activities for undisclosed reasons. I also detailed my nightmares, getting toothpaste on my shirt, stepping on a pushpin, and having something in my eye for most of the afternoon. It was a pretty cute little piece to get back into writing after my two-week unannounced hiatus.
"Cute" became wholly inappropriate after details began to surface surrounding the dismissals of Dominic Artis, Damyean Dotson, and Brandon Austin, culminating in a graphic and stomach-turning police report that detailed the events of the early morning hours of March 9th. The Lane County DA's office determined there is not enough physical evidence to criminally prosecute, but the report leaves no doubt that something abhorrent occurred involving multiple Oregon basketball players. I don't have a lot to say about the incident itself, other than I'm glad Dana Altman and staff were swift in their decision to cut ties with all players accused of sexual misconduct. It'll still stink around the Oregon program for a while, but that stink gets more and more nasty the longer those guys stay tied to the program. This is an ugly moment for Oregon athletics, and one whose repercussions could put an abrupt end to this current run of Oregon basketball success.
The thing is, I don't want to talk about the basketball side of this. Basketball is a game that, if it disappeared from the earth, would have little impact on most of our day-to-day lives. This was a situation of a human being being treated like something less than a human being, and that's never okay under any circumstance, be it alcohol impairment, mob mentality, or just simple lack of empathy and self-awareness. I feel sad and upset that the victim endured a night of terror. I feel pity towards Artis and Dotson for having their dream taken away, regardless of whether they deserved it or not. I sincerely hope Brandon Austin can find his way to some professional help, for what now sounds like a serious psychiatric problem after his second accused sexual assault in less than a year. I feel for the people on the periphery of this night (Elgin Cook, Joseph Young, Richard Amardi, Jon Loyd) that might be feeling guilt or concern because they did not stop any of this from happening, or perhaps secondarily contributed to the alleged events. All of this is bigger than guys in shorts putting a ball through a hoop.
It's always very unnerving to see the ugly side of our heroes. Is it fair as fans to heap expectations of perfection upon athletes, especially college athletes? Because we do. We want to believe these men and women are something more than the common folk. We build them up as gods, and then vilify them when they prove fallible. We're pretty dumb that way sometimes. But being good at something doesn't make a person good at everything. In fact, it usually means they're pretty bad at the stuff they haven't spent their lives perfecting. Damyean Dotson's skills on the basketball court live there and nowhere else. He lacks, in this case, social decency and self-control, and good decision making on the court is useless when drunk, horny, and in an unhealthy social environment. That doesn't make him a monster, but it does put him in dubious company with athletes like Ben Roethlisberger, Kobe Bryant, or even Tiger Woods on some level. The fact that incidents like this happen seemingly every night makes me frightened of all humans, but I was still shocked by this news yesterday. And really, I'm okay with being shocked when a story like this breaks, because I'd like to think it means I have some humanity and trust left. But I'd be jaded to think beautiful people aren't capable of being very, very ugly.
If this was the ice cream in our shit sundae, Rahim Cassell's DUI arrest was the cherry on top, and makes May 5th, 2014, just about the ugliest Oregon sports day in recent memory. And frankly, I'm done talking about it. So I'm gonna close this with one of my favorite Oregon sports memories, and I'd love to hear all of your favorites in the comments section.
My last road trip as a member of the Oregon Athletic Bands was to Little Rock, Arkansas for the 2008 NCAA Tournament. The game itself was a stinker, a seven-point Mississippi State win that featured Oregon shooting below 35% from the field and blowing a 13 point lead in the second half. The next morning we got on a plane and headed back to Eugene. On the charter plane for NCAA trips, the coaching staff and athletic honchos and rich folk sit up front, followed by the players, the cheerleaders, and finally the band in the back, presumably because we are riff-raff who fart in the aisle next to the cheerleaders and make our freshmen pick up the plane's trash instead of the flight attendants. But when we got back to Oregon, head coach Ernie Kent, rather than depart with the rest of the coaches at the front of the plane, stayed on to personally shake the hand of each cheerleader and band member that made the trip to support his team. He did the same thing after the Elite Eight run the year before, but '07-'08 was a more trying year with a less satisfying finish, yet he was still every bit as appreciative and genuine at the end of it. It's one of the most meaningful handshakes and thank-yous I've ever received, and I'll never forget it.