Thursday, September 10, 2009

No Tears for Blount

So, I consider myself at least a moderate sports fan, but I was probably the last person on the planet to see the video of the punch thrown by LaGerrette Blount that decked Bryon Hout in the aftermath of the Boise State/Oregon game a week ago.

I had heard a lot about it—descriptions of various sorts. But I hadn’t seen the footage until after I heard an interview on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” with Dave Zinn, a sports writer for The Nation magazine. Zinn’s take on the incident bothered me, and I decided to seek out the video to see what happened for myself.

In case you, like me, missed it, basically what happened is that Hout runs up to Blount after the game, slaps his shoulder pads, and says something (apparently unflattering) to Blount. The backstory is that Blount had been talking a lot of smack about how bad Oregon was going to whup up on Boise State. Not only did that not happen, but Blount had a horrible game personally. After Hout ran by and taunted Blount, Blount sucker punched Hout, who fell to the ground (but was not seriously injured). Blount was suspended for the rest of this, his senior season with Oregon.

Now, Zinn’s take: He claims the punishment was vastly disproportionate to the crime. While he repeatedly says he’s not excusing Blount’s actions, Zinn insists that Blount doesn’t deserve to be suspended for the entire season.

His reasons? First, he claims that there were “mitigating” circumstances, including the initial taunt itself, the replaying of the punch on the JumboTron at the stadium, and lastly the boorish behavior of some Boise State fans who threatened Player 1 after this repeated replaying of the incident on the JumboTron.

The latter two issues are easy to dispense with. They aren’t mitigating circumstances, by definition, since they happened as results of the punch after the fact. A mitigating circumstance is something that happens *in the commission of an act* that lessens the offender’s culpability. What happened after the fact, no matter how ugly, doesn’t lessen the severity of the act.

Now, as to the taunt, here’s where the video comes in. From the description, I had imagined Hout actively getting in the face of Blount, invading his personal space, and repeatedly taunting him. But that’s not what happened. As the video shows, Hout runs past Blount, slaps him on the shoulder pads, and shouts something, and then continues on. Nothing that could conceivably be considered threatening or as an attempt to goad Blount into violence.

Without a doubt, Hout is an incredible tool and shouldn’t have done it. But words are one thing, physical violence is another. The notion that Zinn floats that one shouldn’t be surprised that Blount reacted the way he did after being taunted in an atmosphere with “this kind of level of adrenaline and testosterone” is utter crap.

Look, people have gone to the electric chair for spontaneous outbursts of violence committed in stressful situations. Had Blount done the very same thing in a college-town bar (another location that often features a surfeit of testosterone), he’d be looking at jail time, not simply not getting to play a game. Heck, he didn’t even have his scholarship revoked.

But the centerpiece of Zinn’s argument about the punishment is not so much the “mitigating” circumstances, but the fact that :

“LaGarrette Blount has gone from being somebody who will most like - would have been most likely a second-round NFL draft pick with a contract of one or $2 million guaranteed, to being somebody who, according to ESPN draft expert Todd McShay - and people I've talked to as well, for that matter - is not going to be drafted, just for that one moment, that one punch.”
 He later says,

“I guess what I'm saying is not only that we have to look at the whole context of it, we also have to look at the extent to which this particular suspension is going to damage Blount's chances to make any kind of living from football.”

And that’s what’s most galling to me. Throughout the interview, Zinn suggests that it’s incredibly unfortunate that this punishment will damage Blount’s chances of becoming a multimillionaire in the NFL. As if he has a right to make such a living. As if the punishment would *not* have been over the top in Zinn’s mind if Blount had been a Division III player with no hope of earning millions after his senior season.

Despite his repeated attempts to assure us that he is “in no way excusing” Blount’s behavior, Zinn is doing exactly that, saying that it’s hypocritical for sports fans to expect players to play a game full on and then not commit assault and battery afterward.

Nonsense. If you are such a Neanderthal that you can’t play a competitive sport full out (yes, even a sport as inherently violent as football) and still act within the most basic bounds of social decency once the final whistle blows, you don’t belong in sports to begin with. Yes, Hout was a dick. Yes, the idiotic fans should be disciplined if they actually attempted to assault Blount afterward. Yes, the JumboTron dude should be given the boot.

But please, let’s get over excusing violence because of “testosterone” or the “adrenaline” of a contact sport. And let’s not cry over the justified punishment of a guy who, had he done what he did anywhere else, would find himself in the clink, not when he still has his scholarship, can practice with his team, and will likely have plenty of opportunities to be drafted and/or signed by the NFL next year anyway.

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