Sunday, January 27, 2008

the price of privilege

today's seattle times has in-depth coverage of the "last great UW team" -- that's university of washington football, in case you were wondering, and the article is referring to the 2000 squad that went 11-1, won the rose bowl, and ended ranked 3rd in the nation.

how is this related to public criminology? unfortunately, that "mystical, magical season" included a disturbing amount of criminal behavior by team members and an equally disturbing lack of punishment/sanctions by anyone in authority.

as the times reports:

When that Rose Bowl season began on Sept. 2, 2000, against the University of Idaho, the UW's starters included:

• A safety who, according to police reports, had cut his wife's face, broken her arm and broken her nose. He had already served time for choking her into unconsciousness. While playing in front of 70,000 fans on Montlake that day, he was wanted on an outstanding warrant.

• A linebacker under investigation for robbing and shooting a drug dealer. He had left behind a fingerprint stained with his blood. By the season opener, police knew the print was his — but they didn't charge him until the season was over.

• A tight end under investigation on suspicion of rape.

At least a dozen members of the Rose Bowl team were arrested that year or charged with a crime that carried possible jail time. At least a dozen others on that team got in trouble with the law in other seasons.

i hate to add to any stereotypes of athletes as criminals, but sometimes the behavior of individuals is egregious. the lengthy story on jerramy stevens--the team's star tight end--shows just how far privilege can go in protecting elite athletes. stevens was convicted of assault, accused of rape, and accumulated a number of hit-and-runs and DUIs during his UW and professional career.

i may use this profile of stevens in class as yet another illustration of inequalities in punishment. i knew jerramy when he first came to u-dub -- he was an incoming freshman in the last class i taught the summer before heading off to a tenure track job. there were several football players in that class and they all behaved well, did their work, and didn't cause any noticeable trouble.

i wonder what would have happened if jerramy had never become a star on the field or if the team had been less successful. would he have been a better person? there's no way of knowing, of course. but, i'll try to use his story as a cautionary tale this summer when i teach a class of incoming freshman football players who will have their whole college experience still ahead of them.

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