Disclaimer: One hazard of writing with a large collective of other contributors is that an opinion of one can often get confused as the opinion of the collective. When debating the awesomeness of Unicorns or the tastiness of Zima, this is a small problem, and one we can abide by. With the below subject matter that’s not the case. So, to spell it out: below is the opinion, only, of Chitownblue, and not the WLA collectively. We certainly do not have a consensus opinion of this issue.
One interesting thing that occurs when attempting to semi-regularly write about sports is that often, the real world will intrude on your subject matter. The issues often slowly edge away from stat-lines and closer to ethics, political opinions, and thoughts on social and societal norms. As such, the story of Daniel Hood, a recent commit to the University of Tennessee who, as a thirteen year old, had been convicted of aggravated sexual assault, is really only peripherally about football, and more about how society handles complicated issues.
For starters: Hood, along with a 17-year-old partner, bound, gagged, and blind-folded, Hood’s cousin and then violated her with a household item. The incident may or may not, depending on which side you choose to believe, have been even more disgusting than that brief encapsulation. Since that time, Hood miraculously escaped any serious punishment at the hands of the legal system (despite having been found guilty and his appeal over-ruled), and gained admission to a local private school. In the ensuing six years, Hood has, by all accounts, been a model citizen, a straight-A student, and, perhaps most relevant to UT, a stand-out football player.
As someone who considers themselves a liberal, this story puts me at war with myself. On one hand, Hood’s life should not be flushed away, forever, because of a heinous act from the past. At some point, the punishment against him needs to end (it’s not UT’s fault that the legal system seemingly avoided levying any real punishment). On the other hand, it’s easy to wonder how somebody, no matter what age, could possibly have done these things to another person, much less their own family. It begs the question what sort of person lurks under the past six years of good behavior.
At Dr. Saturday’s blog, frequent contributor Holly launched something of a defense of Hood. Not of his actions, obviously, but of Tennessee’s decision to give him a scholarship. The crux of her argument, falls a bit flat. First, Holly references that Hood’s cousin – the victim of his actions – has forgiven his actions and wrote a letter on his behalf to UT. In her words, “there’s not a whole lot of arguing with that.”
Well, unfortunately, there is. Her decision to forgive Hood is between her and her cousin – it in no diminishes the severity of what he did, nor should it make anybody else more comfortable with his actions. She forgave and moved on – which is more than I could ever imagine doing – but what Hood did was evil – whether she still wants to hate him for it or not.
Holly then goes to lob an excuse for the act that has been repeated in somewhat different forms throughout the media – “But he was 13. Kids do a lot of growing up in those intervening years.” This has taken the form of the UT Athletic Director calling it a “mistake”. When I was thirteen, I made fun of a fat kid in my class – mercilessly. That was immaturity. At no point did my immaturity manifest itself in a desire to rape a family member. I’ve matured greatly since I was thirteen, but the urge to violate my cousin with a household item hasn’t faded over that time – because that desire was never, ever, there in the first place. That desire is a mark of illness – not immaturity. If we’re going to properly evaluate the safety of Hood and properly handle his situation in future, we need to be honest about that crucial fact. Chalking it up to “immaturity” or calling the binding, gagging, and assault of another person a “mistake” misses the point by miles.
Further – an argument that Hood should not receive a scholarship is not an argument that he should be damned for the rest of his life. Hood largely evaded any punishment and had been free for six years, while his partner remains in jail, and will do so for four more years. While his partner justifiably pays for the crime, Hood got to attend a Tennessee Prep School and play football – he’s receiving his second chance, scholarship or not. A refusal by any school to hand him a scholarship cannot possibly be construed as the same thing as a desire to punish him for the rest of his life. A scholarship – free tuition, free lodging, and free food for four years, is a privilege – one that Tennessee has deemed to revoke, as Holly references, from Lamarcus Coker for smoking weed and Demetrice Morley for having a poor attendance record at practice.
Daniel Hood should not be punished for this crime for his entire life. He should have the right to get an education, and to play football. The right to do these things, however, is not the same thing as having the right to do them for free, on the dime of financial contributors and tuition-paying parents. Coker proved himself unworthy of this privilege by smoking marijuana – even though it was longer in the past, doesn’t Hood’s actions cast his qualifications in doubt? Somehow, we end up defending Hood’s rights while the same defenses could apply to Coker for committing a crime not only infinitely less heinous, but one committed by legions of college kids (and football players) on a daily basis. Yet somehow, Holly’s article casts Coker and Morley as negative foils for Hood:
“Daniel Hood is not Lamarcus Cokeror Demetrice Morley.”
Right, he raped his cousin while Coker is pot-head and Morley didn’t show up for practice. Yet somehow there’s no talk of their potential for redemption? How did we even end up here?
Let Hood pay his own way at the school, and let him show up for tryouts and walk-on the team. Six years ago, he was miraculously (for him) set free from a horrible situation of his own creation. We shouldn’t be giving him anything else for free now.