Is it just me, or d…

Is it just me, or does it seem like every time you pick up a newspaper there’s another story about a guy from University athletics who’s in trouble?
Most recently, of course, we had the covert antics of hockey coach Doug Woog. The front page of Sunday’s Star Tribune had juicy details about how Woog instructed one of his players, who needed money for tuition but whose eligibility had run out, to come to his office, look under his desk and take the five $100 bills he’d left in a cap. What is this — a college campus or a KGB operation? That NCAA violation got Woog suspended for two games, caused one scholarship to be cut and started a big internal investigation.
In addition to that revelation, we saw the former athletic director at the Duluth campus, Bruce McLeod, admit last month that he stole more than $18,000 from the school. Several years prior to that, police said, McLeod offered money to a student in exchange for her silence about an alleged assault by a hockey player. According to the Star Tribune, UMD didn’t discipline McLeod, but it set up a workshop about how to counsel students. (When in doubt, conduct a seminar.) Apparently it didn’t occur to the pre-enlightened McLeod — whose money-for-silence offer was caught on tape by police after they put a hidden microphone on the woman — that bribing assault victims is not OK.
Then there’s the Gophers football team. As you may have noticed, its players got arrested at an alarming rate during the last school year. (Although, if you ask me, the thought of paying coach Jim Wacker’s replacement up to a million dollars a year is probably more criminal than anything these guys have done.)
Along the lines of Gophers’ run-ins with the law, there was Rafael Cooper who admitted that, while working in cahoots with two teammates, he forged a signature on a stolen credit card and ripped off another student’s checkbook.
We also had Ansel Carter, a freshman on the team last year, who pleaded guilty to assault. In a case of mistaken identity, Carter beat a man in the face with a pool cue. It seems Carter thought the guy was someone he’d fought with about a week earlier, but he wasn’t. (Now there’s an embarrassing faux pas!) The man was left with two broken bones in his face, a cut that required five stitches and an eye that was swollen shut. Two of Carter’s teammates — Jimmy Wyrick and Fred D. Rodgers — were also arrested in connection with the beating.
Kahlen Aristotle Barnes also pleaded guilty to fifth-degree domestic assault and disorderly conduct in July 1995. In all, a dozen football players were arrested last year.
University Police detective Brad Herberg, who’s been on the force more than 20 years, told the Daily it was the worst year for football players he’d ever seen. “I don’t quite know what the real issue is,” he said. “It’s just been one thing after another.”
And that’s saying a lot, considering the clouded past of University athletics. The 1980s were a bad time for the Gophers. Three basketball players were charged with raping a woman in 1986, and coach Jim Dutcher resigned after the incident. It wasn’t pretty.
And Luther Darville, then-head of the Office of Minority and Special Student Affairs, was charged in 1988 with misusing thousands of dollars in University funds. (He claimed the money went to a good cause — needy football and basketball players.)
That’s not to say that last year University officials stood idly by while all this ruckus went on around them. Players who got in trouble with the law were suspended or kicked off the team. And of course, just because 12 players were arrested does not mean everyone on the team of nearly 100 is a godless criminal; obviously the majority of players are law-abiding citizens.
To help athletes stay out of trouble, the men’s athletics department three years ago started requiring all players to participate in “life skills” seminars. In light of recent, shall we say, transgressions, it’s probably time to shift these courses into high gear. And let’s make the coaches and administrators take the seminars, too. (“OK, gentlemen, please repeat after me: Stealing is bad. Illegal payments to players are bad.”)
I can’t imagine that the current system makes a dent in a player’s outlook on life. Upperclassmen are only required to attend five of these seminars all year. They must go to a presentation on gambling, one about alcoholism and one on sexual harassment. Then they have a list of five other topics, such as diversity, intimate relationships/managing conflict, and risky behavior (STDs and pregnancy) from which to choose two additional seminars. Each one lasts about an hour.
Players must also perform at least 10 hours of community service each year. That amounts to a grand total of 15 hours per year teaching athletes the finer points of life. Seems like it’d have to be a pretty jam-packed 15 hours. But according to the man who oversees the seminars, Rufus Simmons, they aren’t telling the players much they don’t already know.
“It is not as if they’re hearing this for the first time — they’ve heard it since elementary school,” he said. “They know the rights and the wrongs of their behaviors. The issue is, how do you deal with particular situations that may be pretty thorny or difficult or very complex? We try to give them some answers so that when faced with a particular challenging situation, they have an opportunity to recall, bring to mind, particular solutions or advice that’s been given to them.”
If a man has heard since grade school that hitting people is not OK, but it hasn’t sunk in, how is an hour-long class on the subject going to help? And if it’s not going to make an impact, why bother with it at all? Kudos for making an effort, but maybe a daylong field trip to emergency rooms and women’s shelters would be more effective.
The Center for Student-Athlete Development recently surveyed the players to see what they thought of these life skills seminars and to measure attendance. Simmons said he would prefer not to make the report public, although he said a summary (which presumably would not include any interesting details) could be made available.
The problems with the athletes has become serious enough that Simmons said last month he’s going to start doing background checks on prospective players. What’s going on in this world when we have to check players’ rap sheets? Isn’t this supposed to be good, clean fun?
Many people say athletes, especially those in the more popular sports like football and basketball, face greater pressures than most students because they live in a fishbowl. For example, the media care a lot more when one of the Gophers beats the crap out of someone than they do when an average person-on-the-street gets in a fight. Too bad if it seems unfair — no one’s forcing them to play sports. If they want to come here and represent the school in return for free tuition and housing, the least they can do is behave themselves. If they want the glory, they’re going to have to live up to the standards people expect from them. It’s all part of the game.

Kris Henry’s column appears in the Daily every Thursday. Her e-mail address is [email protected]