Feinstein: "Everybody Does It" No Excuse

From Urban Meyer to D.J. Durkin, fans need to stop making excuses for people guilty of wrongdoing, John Feinstein says

John Feinstein
August 15, 2018 - 9:00 am

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In sports, as in politics and life, it is always someone else’s fault.

Almost without fail, when someone is accused of wrongdoing, his or her supporters will rush to accuse someone else of being just as guilty or more guilty.

In the past couple of weeks, Ohio State supporters have come out in droves to blame the reporter who broke the Zach Smith story; Zach Smith’s wife; people who want to "get" Urban Meyer because he’s been successful and the media in general.

The question I’ve been asked most often on Twitter is this: “Since when is lying to the media a firing offense?” That’s usually followed up by examples of coaches "lying" about who is going to start at quarterback or how serious a player’s injury is or whether he’s interested in another job. For the record, the next time a coach is caught in a truth about his interest in another job, it will be a first.

You see, even if Urban Meyer lied at Big Ten Media Days on the subject of domestic violence involving a member of his coachin staff—a subject far more serious than something specific to football, it’s okay because, well, the media "lies" all the time and, heck, everybody lies.

Ohio State fans aren’t any different than fans any place else. If Urban Meyer weren't 73-8, you can bet they wouldn’t be defending him with as much ferocity. In fact, you can be sure that if the exact same thing had happened at Michigan, they would be calling for Jim Harbaugh’s head.

Just as Michigan fans are no doubt calling for Meyer’s head right now, not so much because he may have allowed someone guilty of domestic violence to continue on his staff, but because Meyer is 6-0 against the Wolverines.

The oldest excuse in the jock playbook is this one: "Everybody does it." That’s why whenever I write that baseball’s steroid cheats don’t belong in the Hall of Fame because they damaged the game, I am bombarded with "everybody did it" tweets and e-mails or people saying Bud Selig should be blamed for not putting a stop to it sooner.

Actually, Selig is guilty and so is the players' union and so is the media. We all should have been a lot louder a lot sooner on the issue. I will defend the media in this sense: we couldn’t write it or say it without proof or someone saying it on the record.

On the day the Mitchell report came out in 2007, I called both Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine. I was wrapping up a book on the two of them and wanted to get their reaction to the report into the book’s epilogue. Their initial reactions were almost identical: “I’m more surprised by some of the names NOT on the list, than most of the names that ARE on the list.”

To this day, I know those names, but I can’t print or say them because I only have the educated suspicions of Mussina, Glavine and others.

The larger point, though, is this: Selig wasn’t aggressive enough about drug-testing; the union stonewalled on the issue and we in the media didn’t pursue proof often enough. But that doesn’t make the steroid users any LESS guilty.

You don’t let one person off the hook for something just because someone else also did it or because they weren’t prosecuted properly.

Some argue that players like Bonds and Clemens, who have never confessed, can’t be held accountable because they haven’t been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s a legal term that exists to demand that a jury be absolutely certain before it takes someone’s freedom away.

The steroid users need only be found guilty in the court of public opinion to be denied the PRIVILEGE of being elected to the Hall of Fame. The apologists then bring up players whispered about with no proof. That’s different than the players we absolutely know cheated like Alex Rodriguez and Mark McGwire—who have fessed up—and Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds who have refused to do so. They’re all guilty.

At the University of Marylandm a player—Jordan McNair—died in June after collapsing from heatstroke during an offseason workout. On Tuesday, the president of the University of Maryland, Wallace Loh, stood up at a press conference and said Maryland was responsible—specifically the training staff—for McNair’s death. Loh said Maryland’s trainers hadn’t taken proper steps when McNair collapsed.

This was an extraordinary admission because, unless the school has already struck a deal for a financial settlement with McNair’s family, there are legal ramifications involved that could cost the school millions of dollars.

Minutes later, after Loh left without taking questions, Maryland athletic director Damon Evans announced that Maryland had “parted ways,” with one member of the Maryland coaching staff.

Only under questioning did Evans say that Rick Court, the team’s strength and conditioning coach, was the coach the school had "parted ways," with. In English, Court was fired.

Later, he tweeted a letter of "resignation" in which he admitted no guilt. What’s more the school paid him $315,000 on his way out the door for taking the fall without answering any questions about the charges made against him and his boss, head coach D.J. Durkin.

For the moment, Court’s the fall guy after a lengthy and graphic ESPN story that appeared last Friday detailing a toxic atmosphere within the football program, with many fingers being pointed at Court.

At no point on Tuesday did Loh or Evans utter the name, “D.J. Durkin,”—who just happens to be the man being paid $2.5 million annually to run the football program. It was Durkin who made Court his first hire when he got to Maryland and clearly considered him a trusted lieutenant and friend.

According to Loh, Durkin—who is on administrative leave—is in a heap of trouble if the ESPN "allegations"—his word—prove to be true. But, Durkin, who Maryland might have to pay $7.5 million if it has to fire him without cause, deserves due process. And so, Loh has appointed a four-man committee (he called it a commission) to look into Durkin’s possible involvement in the abuses—emotional and physical—that Court is apparently guilty of--without due process.

As it happens, I’ve known quite a few strength coaches. Often, they are the one coach who survives a coaching change and they spend more time with the players than anyone else on the staff because time in the weight room and conditioning are pretty much 12 months a year.

Scott Swanson was the strength coach at Army when I wrote “A Civil War” during the 1995 season. Since then, Army has had seven head coaches. Scott’s still there and he is BELOVED by the players.

That same year, Navy’s strength coach was Phil Emery—the first strength coach I heard referred to as “Satan.” Phil wasn’t just a strength coach, he was a football coach. He eventually became an NFL scout and rose to be general manager of the Chicago Bears.

The best strength coaches I’ve met are men you don’t want to fool around with. They know how to push players to the brink—but also know there’s a line you don’t cross.

In the macho world of football, there are coaches who aren’t smart enough to see the line.

I don’t know Rick Court or D.J. Durkin. Already there are people lining up to say, "this is the way everybody does it" or, "that’s what you have to do to find out if your players are tough enough."

Trust me, when I tell you the football players at Army and Navy are plenty tough. And they get pushed very hard—without being abused or humiliated in the ways ESPN’s sources say Court abused and humiliated Maryland’s players.

By firing Court yesterday—even if he technically "resigned" ––Maryland is saying it has judged Court guilty as charged. But how can it not judge Durkin, the man who hired him, with being guilty as charged?

I have no doubt the "everybody does it" arguments will be coming in the next few days and weeks. Durkin may ultimately get fired. He’s 10-15 after two seasons, not 73-8 like Meyer is after six years as the God of Ohio. He will not be fired.

Of course no one died on Meyer’s watch, so the stories are different. But, as with steroid users in baseball, or politicians who lie, cheat or steal, they have this in common: their apologists will insist that they shouldn’t be judged guilty even if they are guilty because… "everybody does it."
John Feinstein’s most recent non-fiction book, ‘The First Major—The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup,’ which spent five months on The New York Times bestseller list will be published in paperback next month. His new novel, “The Prodigy,”—which is about a teen-ager who has a chance to win the Masters, will be published on August 28th.