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Today's word on journalism

Monday, January 29, 2007

Words as weapons:

"When he had a pen in his hand it was like giving a kid a machine gun."

--Peter Hall, theater director, on "Angry Young Man" playwright John Osborne (1929-1994)

Miami season dramatics point to need for better recruiting

By Matt Lenio

December 1, 2006 | To the dismay of thousands of loyal fans, the Miami Hurricane's 2006 season has been tumultuous, and at times, tragic.

Just six weeks into the season, the team was involved in an embarrassing, bench-clearing rumble. Three weeks later, lineman Bryan Pata was shot and killed in the parking lot of his apartment complex. In my opinion, the downfall of University of Miami's football program can be traced to the team's mix of talent and unchecked egos. At no time was this more apparent than on Oct. 14, when a brawl erupted during a football game between the team and its cross-town rival, the Florida International University (FIU) Golden Panthers.

A total of 31 players from both teams were suspended because of their involvement in the fight. Among the 13 players suspended on the Hurricanes' team, the two players who undoubtedly deserved the harshest punishment were Anthony Reddick and Brandon Meriweather. After both benches stormed the field, Reddick took off his helmet and began using it as a weapon, swinging it at FIU players. The Hurricanes' safety, Brandon Meriweather, was also found stomping on multiple FIU players' heads and bodies. To the fans on the field and in the stands, this melee looked like a pathetic school-yard rumble. The behavior of these particular Division I college athletes was a colossal humiliation for both the football teams, as well as everyone associated with their universities.

Even the coaches could not contain their disappointment. During a press conference after the game, the one word that came to Larry Coker, Miami Hurricanes head football coach's mind was "disgraceful."

Coker is exactly right. Disgrace is the only word to describe these select thug athletes' poor judgment and juvenile behavior. There really are no excuses for these types of antics. It makes loyal college football fans like myself shake our heads in disgust. Like many football devotees, there is nothing I like more than flipping through channels on Saturday afternoons to find the best match-up. On most weekends, I can be found relaxing on the couch, sipping Dr Pepper and munching on a bag of chips while I watch almost any game on the tube -- except, of course, the games in which Miami is playing. The team's lack of sportsmanship has killed any interest I had in their success.

If Larry Coker and the University of Miami thought that their football season could get better after the fight in October, they were sorely mistaken. Pata's death marked the fourth time in 10 years that a Hurricane football player has been murdered. The 6-foot-4, 280-pound defender had a reputation for being a popular, soft-spoken, and all-around good guy. Quarterback Kirby Freeman told reporters that Hurricane football players looked to Pata for leadership and guidance on and off of the field. He was characterized as a great person and a fine competitor. Pata was a successful collegiate player, and I believe he would have made a positive impact at the professional level. College football fans, myself included, saw Pata as a sure bet in the 2006 National Football League's spring draft.

So why has so much drama drowned the once-untouchable Hurricanes this football season? Miami has a reputation for consistently sending a large number of players to the NFL, but also for recruiting players who are trouble-makers both on and off the field. There is obviously a volatile mix of both outstanding individuals and thugs among the UM football players.

I believe that when coaches recruit collegiate athletes, more extensive background checks needs to be conducted. Recruiting violent, confrontational personalities will not lead a team to success. Mixing players who have unchecked tempers with driven, focused athletes is a true recipe for disaster. The best chance UM has for success is to seek out passionate players who have character to match their talent. Miami is not the only team plagued by conflicts and controversy. Just last year, Virginia Tech's star quarterback, Marcus Vick, was suspended a number of times before being kicked off of the team indefinitely. After being found guilty on accounts of reckless driving, contributing to delinquency of a minor and marijuana possession, things only got worse. Vick's career ended after an exceptionally poor decision was made during the Gator Bowl game against the Louisville Cardinals. After stomping on the opposing team's defensive end, Elvis Dumervil's leg, the unsportsmanlike antics of Marcus Vick could not be tolerated any longer.

I wish that these problematic teams would stop going after players who drag their team's reputations through the mud. Recruiters, please go after the athletes who will uplift your programs! With a long history of being one of the NCAA's biggest powerhouses, Miami's five wins and five losses season in the first 10 weeks of the season has been a disappointment to say the least. I believe the 'Canes need to look toward the future of their football program, and begin recruiting players with talent and character. It's impossible to go back and undo the damage already done, but not too late for coaches to change the direction Miami's program is heading.


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