The crutch phrase on which athletic departments lean, the infamous “violation of team rules,” for suspensions and dismissals serves the purpose of remaining so vague as to not reveal anything, sometimes in order to save the athletic department and/or dismissed individual embarrassment.
It’s time to rethink the whole “violation of team rules” crutch, as evidenced by its use in the dismissal of defensive end Maciah Long from the football program, announced via email at 11:12 a.m. Monday.
Less than a half hour later, news broke of Long’s Sunday night arrest and that he was being held on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. By mid-afternoon, prosecutors had charged him with one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a felony, and a couple of misdemeanors (damaging a TV, possession of weed). Prosecutors alleged a loaded handgun was the deadly weapon.
The seriousness of his felony charge, lumped under the “violation of team rules” umbrella, creates problems.
Suppose a student-athlete is habitually late for practice, tutoring and/or weights, or repeatedly tests positive for marijuana, is threatened with dismissal, can’t get his act together and ultimately is run from the team for, you guessed it, “violation of team rules.”
Now for the rest of that player’s life, many will suspect he or she did something really, really bad. Some will assume the worst, which of course won’t be fair to the athlete.
In the case of Long, what would be wrong with saying he has been dismissed from the team for “unacceptable behavior”?
If a player is run for excessive tardiness, call it excessive tardiness. If he steals from teammates or the athletic department and authorities are not notified, call it “untrustworthy behavior.”
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self wisely didn't use the "team rules" crutch when he suspended Dedric Lawson. Self said it was for “an incident in practice,” adding, “an altercation occurred and he didn’t handle it well.”
With that information, the worst you’re going to think is he sucker-punched a teammate, which certainly isn’t good, but is nowhere near as disturbing as one of the three charges leveled against Long.
Coaches and school administrations need not wait for a guilty verdict to act. After talking to law enforcement officials and in some cases the athlete charged, they decide if the player still is welcome on the team. A uniform is a privilege, not a right. Presumption of innocence in a court of law is a right.