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Thursday, August 13, 2009
Hockey player upset Winston reinstated

By Adam Rittenberg
ESPN.com

Michigan State hockey player A.J. Sturges is urging the university to have a clearer policy on how to handle athletes convicted of violent crimes after he suffered severe head injuries during an altercation with Spartans football players last October.

Michigan State reinstated football player Glenn Winston on Monday, hours after the sophomore running back was released from prison after serving about four months for his role in the Oct. 19 incident. Winston in March pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to 180 days in jail, but he earned an early release by taking part in an inmate worker program.

According to the police report from the incident, which ESPN.com obtained through Sturges' family, witnesses said they saw Winston strike Sturges and others at the party. Sturges sustained a fractured skull and bleeding on his brain.

He did not play hockey for the rest of the 2008-09 season and experienced headaches and memory issues that prevented him from taking a full academic load.

In his first public comments since the incident, Sturges released a statement to ESPN.com in which he criticized the athletic department's decision to reinstate Winston.

"While I hope what happened to me will never happen again, I am afraid the precedent set by this decision will only enable similar incidents in the future," the statement reads. "With no formal athletic standards or means to deal with student athletes convicted of a violent crime, this cycle will continue.

"Beyond legal and team issues, there is a simple human obligation of respect and character that still remains unfulfilled. Until that occurs, I question what has been learned."

Michigan State's Student-Athlete Conduct Policy states that any student-athlete convicted of a felony will be suspended from their team and prohibited from participating in games and receiving all benefits given to team members. Winston was convicted of two misdemeanors.

"Glenn has done everything that he's been asked to do, from a judicial and a team standpoint," Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio said in a statement released Monday. "He has paid the penalty for his actions -- publicly, legally and athletically -- and he worked hard to maintain his academic eligibility while doing so. We regret the entire incident; however, at this time, it is important that we support Glenn socially, academically and athletically. He still has a lot of work to do."

Athletic director Mark Hollis added in a statement: "The athletics department will not turn its back on this young man. I am supportive of all student-athletes that are part of our program. We will move forward and continue to support A.J. Sturges and Glenn with all the resources available to us."

Michigan State declined to make any additional comments about Sturges' statement after being provided with copies Thursday by ESPN.com.

"There is no new information provided in [Sturges'] statement that wasn't already taken into consideration [before Winston's reinstatement]," associate athletic director for communications John Lewandowski told ESPN.com. "We're moving forward."

Winston didn't play in four of Michigan State's final five games last fall and hasn't participated in any team activities for more than seven months.

According to the police report, the incident began with an altercation between football player Mitchell White and several hockey players during a party at a house where Sturges lived.

A hockey player and one of White's friends began fighting over a woman, and White got involved in the skirmish. Hockey player Andrew Conboy intervened and he and White fought in the street outside the house. Conboy "won the fight," according to witnesses, and White left the scene.

Several minutes later, three cars arrived at the party, filled with mostly football players. Witnesses told police the men were looking for Conboy but began "beating up everybody they could."

Sturges said in his statement to ESPN.com that he was in his room upstairs in the house and came down upon hearing the commotion after the football players arrived. He said he did not see Winston before getting punched in his head from the side.

"I did not have any chance to protect myself at all," Sturges writes. "Neither did his other victims. ... After having nothing to do with any events that occurred earlier that night, I was attacked in my own house.

"As a hockey player, I know what a fight is. What happened that night was not a fight. What happened was a violent crime. Pure and simple."

According to the police report, Winston denied any involvement in the fight.

Sturges said he has yet to receive an apology from Winston.

"While the victims of his actions still recover from what he did, Winston's obligations have been deemed fulfilled by the football program and athletic department," Sturges writes. "I think his immediate reinstatement after a shortened jail sentence in my opinion is the wrong decision by our athletic program."

Sturges, who hopes to return to the ice this season, thanked Michigan State for its support during his recovery process but wants to see changes.

"I believed the people involved in the assault and those at MSU charged with handling the policy, would do the right thing," his statement reads. "They haven't."

Adam Rittenberg covers Big Ten football for ESPN.com. He can be reached at espnritt@gmail.com.