Football program, not Daily, to blame

When running back Rafael Cooper was dismissed from the Gophers football team in May for his involvement in a campus burglary, head coach Jim Wacker told the Daily, “You can’t have that type of behavior on our football team.” Wacker was applauded in this space for making a courageous decision that — while threatening his team’s chances for success — appeared to maintain the moral integrity of the program.
So we were understandably surprised to learn that 17 players on the 1995 Gophers football roster had been in trouble at some point in their careers; 15 of them have been formally charged with crimes, 12 in the last year alone. The alleged offenses include assaults, burglaries, driving while intoxicated and carrying a concealed weapon. Some of these incidents were never reported in the press. So much for coach Wacker’s much-touted “clean” program.
In an interview with the Star Tribune, University men’s athletics director Mark Dienhart called the Daily’s coverage of the findings “horribly inaccurate on all manner of fronts,” citing the case of guard Chris Bergstrom. But contrary to Dienhart’s assertion, court records clearly indicate Bergstrom was indeed charged with, and ultimately pleaded guilty to, DWI. Dienhart claims Bergstrom was pulled over for speeding and passed a Breathalyzer test, but the case history shows Bergstrom’s blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit of .10. Also, a $210 fine and 30-day jail sentence were stayed, provided Bergstrom meet certain conditions, including 16 hours of community service. Rather than deal with the situation in a forthright manner, it seems Dienhart chose to denounce the messenger — in this case, the Daily.
Regardless of Deinhart’s opinion of Daily coverage, the facts of the matter are still clear: one-fifth of the football team has spent an inordinate amount of time in trouble with the authorities. And that, without question, is one-fifth too many.
The behavior exhibited by the players in question only intensifies the negative stereotypes of student-athletes, and football players in particular. Granted, the University is not on par with some of the other storied teams around the country. A year ago, a Sports Illustrated cover story suggested that administrators at the University of Miami-Florida shut down their school’s football program because of players’ repeated brushes with the law. We hope conditions here in Minnesota will not lead to a similar result, but Wacker and Dienhart’s apparent inability to rein in their players is worrisome at best, and disastrous at worst.
The football program’s problems can’t be downplayed, as Dienhart’s comments would suggest. By criticizing the Daily’s reporting, he attempted to shift the focus away from what has truly become a poorly managed, underachieving team. His energies are misdirected. Wacker and Dienhart should focus on honing a football team that performs well on the field and off.