CRAWFORD | For Louisville, taking Devonte Fields will send disturbing messages
Former TCU defensive end Devonte Fields announced his commitment to the University of Louisville football program today, but his arrival sends some unsettling messages, WDRB's Eric Crawford writes.
Sunday, February 1st 2015, 12:46 PM EST
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Word came down this morning that Devonte Fields has committed to the University of Louisville football team and that he will sign a national letter of intent on Wednesday.
There are two reasons this should matter to you.
First, he's a defensive end with great promise as a sack specialist. He was voted the freshman defensive player of the year in the Big 12 conference. He is the No. 2 junior college prospect in the nation and a legitimate NFL Draft prospect.
Second, he was kicked out of TCU for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend. The following is from Sports Illustrated's "Inside Read" web feature, last Sept. 29:
Fields was arrested and charged with assault causing bodily injury to a family member, a misdemeanor, after his ex-girlfriend was found with a swollen right cheek and a small cut under her eye. The woman told police that Fields appeared to have a gun in one of his hands that he pointed at her and threatened, “I should blast you!” That was after he allegedly punched out a bedroom window of a house where she had been talking to a mutual male friend and Fields began yelling at her.
Asked about the allegations [by SI], Fields said, “I'll leave it as it is. It's a mistake. It's a lesson learned. That's all it is.”
At this point, no final disposition of his legal case has been reported. The victim later recanted her assertion that Fields had a gun, though her original accusation was that he only "appeared" to have a gun. She did not recant her account of his assault. Fields says it was “a mistake.” We all make them. But we don't all hit women. Some thought Fields might opt for the NFL Draft after playing one season at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas, then the Ray Rice situation happened.
Fields told Sports Illustrated's “The Inside Read,” that the Rice situation made it tougher for him. “My [stock] is probably down since the Ray Rice situation,” he said. “It probably dropped me a little bit.”
I don't know Fields. He might be personable and great to be around. He might be a misguided kid who got into a bad situation and made a horrible decision in a moment of anger. I'm sure there will be a defense of signing him, and it will sound reasonable, and many people will accept it.
Here's what I accept.
There are two kinds of football programs: Those who stand against domestic violence, and those who help perpetuate the problem by being part of the safety net, the net that says no matter what you do, someone, somewhere will give you another chance, if you have enough football potential.
U of L now is one of the latter. Alabama is one of the latter. It took Jonathan Taylor after he was dismissed from Georgia following a charge of felony aggravated assault and family violence. Taylor also considered Louisville.
I don't have a problem with Fields, per se. I don't know him. Perhaps he has learned from his mistakes, as many of us do. This isn't about him as a person.
Here's my problem: The messages that signing him sends. There are two, and they are inescapable.
The first is to athletes: That domestic violence against women is not as important as your ability as a football player. If you're good enough, you can do what you want, and there will always be another chance. It makes any kind of message you want to put forward about abuse ring hollow.
But the second message is the more serious one, and it is the message sent to women who find themselves victims of abuse. That message is, you don't matter, at least not as much as talented football players matter. And if you have a problem with a talented football player, there's no point in fighting that battle, because the player is more important.
That's what it says. No matter what Nick Saban or U of L or anyone else wants to tell you it means, that's what these kinds of signings say. I understand second chances. I get it. Someone will take these players, the argument goes. They have paid a price for their mistakes, the argument goes. We will supervise them closely, the argument goes. The problem I have with those kinds of arguments is that they begin to turn these players into victims, while the real victims go unmentioned, and many more like them who are watching in the shadows get the message loud and clear.
It is the last message that American colleges and universities need to be sending right now. You have to draw a line somewhere. Violence against women or children by male athletes seems a reasonable and easy place to draw it.
Someone will always take these players, if they have enough talent. It remains up to each individual school to determine the way they will proceed, and up to each coach, administrator and fan to answer the unavoidable question: If it had been your daughter, would you be OK with this?
During the Super Bowl tonight, for the first time, the NFL will air the first domestic violence public service announcement ever to air during the nation's largest televised event. You can watch it here. The NFL is undergoing something of a revolution in its way of thinking in these matters. College football, at least in some places, isn't there yet.
Today, it gives me no pleasure to conclude, it appears that Louisville is one of those places.
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