Monday, December 12, 2011
Give UC credit for forcing players to man up
By Dana O'Neil
It’s easy to manufacture words.
It’s not easy to manufacture emotions.
Which is why what Yancy Gates did on Monday is so much more meaningful than what he said. The Cincinnati senior wept openly, holding his head in his hands, as he tried to apologize for his actions during the Bearcats’ brawl against Xavier on Saturday.
It does not erase the other image, the searing image of Gates punching Kenny Frease and then desperately trying to find someone, anyone else, to unload on.
Cincinnati forward Yancy Gates wipes tears from his eyes during a news conference on Monday.
That one will trail him for the rest of his career and rightly so. His actions, his penalty. But at least there was a sign of remorse on Monday -- tangible and visible remorse.
“People have been saying I’m a thug or a gangster,’’ Gates said before trailing off and wiping his eyes.
And in a 48-hour span when so few have done anything right, give credit to university officials for this: They did not allow their athletes to hide behind statements. They made them apologize on camera and then face the hard music, fielding questions from the assembled media.
We have been given enough paper apologies in the last few months to fell a forest. From Penn State to Syracuse, from politicians to university presidents, this has been a good season for statement writers.
They are easy to write and easier still to hide behind, paper apologies that are clearly contrived, rarely contrite and typically followed by the "We won’t talk about that," evasion when the culpable is again put in front of the media.
At least Mick Cronin, who insisted on Saturday that this was more than basketball and his job is about more than winning games, has something to back up his words. He reasserted that the final length of the suspensions will be up to him, saying, "In my locker room, nobody will take the floor again if they don’t understand it’s a privilege."
More, the man who said it was his job to turn his players into men actually made his players act like men.
Instead of offering his players an escape hatch, he forced them -- Gates, Octavius Ellis, Cheikh Mbodj and Ge’Lawn Guyn -- to sit down in front of the glare of the unwelcome spotlight without scripts and with only their own scruples as guidance.
“I don’t know about the environment [during the game],’’ Gates said. “I take responsibility for my actions, no matter what was going on. I’m an older guy on the team. I should have grabbed my teammates instead of going out there, throwing punches. … All I can say is it looked bad and it was bad.’’
The suspended Bearcats will undergo the requisite anger management counseling, but Cronin also wants them to do some sort of community service -- ideally they’d talk to kids, especially high school basketball players and apologize to them -- as well as apologize to their classmates through the student government.
It doesn’t excuse what happened. Nothing will.
Nor does it entirely make up for what still remains a tepid suspension for such brutality.
Six games -- and even lesser ones over at Xavier -- equates to a mere dent into the Big East season and seems woefully inadequate for something so horrific.
UC athletic director Whit Babcock attempted to explain the reasoning behind the six games, knowing full well that no explanation will sate the appetite of some. He said that he and university president Gregory Williams spoke with several people -- Big East officials, other athletic directors and coaches -- trying to come up with a comparable situation and punishment.
They found none. They considered, he said, the 10-game suspension of Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount but decided that because Blount’s punch of a Boise State player came seemingly unprovoked and after a game, it wasn’t similar enough.
They arrived at six -- more, Babcock said, than outsiders suggested -- and agreed that everyone who had thrown a punch, even if it didn’t land, would receive the same treatment.
“No amount of games,’’ Babcock said, “can take those punches back.’’
And that is the reality that sent Gates to tears.
There are people who had never heard of Yancy Gates until Saturday and now only know him from the fight video.
Even worse, there are people who did know of him and their opinions, too, will be forever colored by his actions.
It’s a tough lesson and an even harsher reality.
At least Cincinnati is making him face it without a piece of paper to hide behind.