Last Monday, every lounge across campus was full of students watching the BCS championship game. It was an emotional roller coaster to watch for any football fan, regardless of loyalties. But for those of us who are die-hard Oregon fans, it was the capstone on what has been a tumultuous couple of years. What Carleton, and the rest of the country, saw on Monday was only part of the story. Oregon coach Chip Kelly has done a remarkable job of filling Autzen Stadium for the past two seasons, so performance clearly isn’t the problem. It’s the off-field catastrophes that have had the small town of Eugene, Ore., enraged at our normally deeply beloved Ducks.
Oregon fans know the story of Jeremiah Masoli. A troubled but talented quarterback, he rose from third-string to lead the team to victory in the 2008 Holiday Bowl. Unfortunately, that was the peak of his career at Oregon. In January of 2010, Masoli was arrested for stealing two laptops from a frat house. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year of probation and 140 hours of community service. Kelly suspended him from the football team for one year. Masoli later transferred to Ole Miss where he is now starting quarterback.
This plot is not remarkable at all on its own. However, in little Eugene, there was some other news that broke about a month later. On Feb. 17, the Register-Guard printed the following news brief:
“University of Oregon running back LaMichael James was jailed Tuesday on domestic violence charges, the latest in a series of incidents to roil the Ducks football team. Springfield police arrested James, 20, on charges of fourth-degree assault, menacing and strangulation, all under the state’s Abuse Prevention Act. Bail has not been set and he remained in custody Wednesday morning....The arrest comes just a day after placekicker Rob Beard, 19, was cited for fourth-degree assault in connection with a Jan. 24 street fight that left him severely injured and hospitalized. Beard was charged with assaulting a 19-year-old woman in the fight.”
Both James and Beard pleaded guilty at trials following their arrests. Kelly suspended both players for the first game of the 2010 season. One game. That’s it.
Masoli caused no one physical harm and returned both laptops. James beat his girlfriend, while Beard wounded another woman. These crimes are drastically different in severity and consequences from stealing a computer. If the punishment fits the crime (and isn’t that usually important in the legal world?), then how does this series of events possibly make sense? There were obviously many circumstances that the public will never be privy to, but those are the facts as they stand in public record.
Sure, Carleton football players don’t get athletic scholarships, and none of them have been arrested in recent memory. But that doesn’t mean Oregon’s problems are irrelevant to us. Many of us watched that game and have seen athlete after athlete circumvent the law. This isn’t a problem specific to Oregon, but it is specific to the United States’ athletic culture. For me, an Oregon win on Monday would have tasted sour. Oregon may be the second best football team in the country right now, but if they couldn’t have done that without the help of two men who abused women, I’m deeply ashamed to call myself a duck.