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With yesterday's announcement that Washington Huskies guard Venoy Overton has been charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor, UW coach Lorenzo Romar acted swiftly and deliberately by suspending over from the Pac-10 tournament within an hour of learning about what happened. Although that suspension could end up lasting one game - which might seem light - Romar has handled this situation as well as he possibly could have and put the burden on Overton to respond to an opportunity for growth. To keep track of this situation in its entirety, visit SBN Seattle's storystream on Venoy Overton.
So by no means did UW coach Lorenzo Romar attempt to condone or defend those actions during yesterday's press conference to announce that Overton would be suspended for the 2011 Pac-10 Tournament after being charged for furnishing alcohol to a minor.
"You have a certain vision and you work real hard for a program to be a certain way and you also want the best for your guys," said Romar, after saying that this had been the toughest year of his career. "If something goes wrong - if somebody makes a mistake - it's always a setback. And you just to hate see that happen. But you make mistakes, there are consequences to them. Just dealing with all that just makes it difficult."
And while everybody acknowledged that basketball considerations are secondary to what's humanly at stake in the matter, there's no denying that the suspension turned made a disappointing season that was already headed rapidly downhill after losing two of their final three home games start to feel like it was turning into a nightmare.
"It's probably difficult for different people," said UW guard Isaiah Thomas. "For me, it's just like, dang it, why did that have to happen right now?"
But Romar has promised throughout this whole ordeal that he wouldn't be evasive once the time was right and his message yesterday was simple yet forceful when attached to the significance of the suspension: we all make mistakes, there are consequences for them, and hopefully we learn from them.
Thomas echoed a similar sentiment.
"He knows he did wrong and he knows what was at stake, but people make mistakes," said Thomas, when asked if he was disappointed with his friend and teammate. "I always feel that people deserve a second chance whenever mistake is made."
Although it might be true that we all make mistakes at some point, the reality is that the social consequences of mistakes are often more dire for athletes as public figures: whereas we all have the luxury of choosing to grapple with the impact of our mistakes and navigate the consequences privately, athletes at NCAA tournament caliber athletic programs are subjected to scrutiny of media and fans.
And when it comes to the athletic public figures who we've put on a pedestal, it's always easy to forget that it's possible to observe that someone's actions are intolerable without judging them as unworthy of the common decency that we would wish for ourselves.
"You know what fans are capable of doing," said Thomas when asked about the fan treatment of Overton. "Going into anybody's arena, they hear things that maybe you guys never hear, they find out things and say whatever they want. You just gotta be a basketball player and push it out your mind and focus on doing what you gotta do for that game.
"It came to a point where some teams said some things that you just don't say, but people are disrespectful in this world and it is what it is. You put yourself in that position, people think they can say whatever they want."
None of this is to present Overton as a victim in this situation in any way - he made a mistake, it became a very public mistake eventually associated with criminal charges, and he'll have his day in court.
The point is that rather than give in to a sometimes vitriolic public sentiment, Romar has focused on what's most important. Rather than leap to a public judgment before the facts were clear, Romar was patient before imposing consequences that may have been unwarranted. Yet after The King County Prosecutor's Office decided against filing a sexual assault charge, Romar remained patient until further investigation found cause to charge Overton with the lesser misdemeanor yesterday.
We have to acknowledge that as a man who has built a reputation on class and doing the right thing, Romar was putting a lot at risk by keeping his head while all about him others were losing theirs.
"There was a lot of things to be considered," said Romar. "Sometimes there's an outcry by the public that something must be done; as far as I'm concerned, behavior needs to change and we have to learn from our mistakes. Mistakes are going to be made. Every situation is different - I don't think you handle every situation the same way sometimes. I think it's important from here on out that he learn from this."
Romar has responded to a difficult situation as well as he could possibly be expected to. While all about him, fans were vilifying a player who was still technically unnamed but unmasked by the internet, Romar remained focused on the person he knows better than any of us shouting at him or writing about him.
As Christian Caple of the Seattle PI wrote yesterday, Romar did what he thought was best for this player to grow as a person. While some coaches certainly would have reacted in an authoritarian manner by swiftly imposing harsh consequences to demonstrate their own power, Romar responded authoritatively by relying upon pre-established standards set for his program and applying consequences that would best hold Overton to that standard. He treated Overton as someone worthy of respect even as he faced a player who had tarnished his program.
While Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer suggested that Romar's grace in his handling of Overton was grounded in his Christian faith, it's even more likely that Romar was acting as a family member rather than on religious values.
Throughout the whole ordeal, Romar has used the family metaphor as a way to help media understand his point of view. He did so again when a media member asked him yesterday whether One media member asked Romar how often he counsels his players not "to go out and do something stupid".
"How many kids you have?" asked Romar. "You have kids?"
"I have two," responded the reporter.
"Who old are they," asked Romar, making it clear where he was going with his questioning.
"18 and 12," replied the reporter. "Good question."
"So, I guess you know my answer," said Romar.
"All the time," the reporter said, effectively conceding the point to Romar.
Yet even if we acknowledge that Romar has handled the situation with grace up to the point of a charge, perhaps the remaining question is whether this suspension is appropriate, particularly given the nature of the situation.
Romar said he wasn't sure what he would have done had a charge not been brought against Overton prior to the end of the season yet didn't want to do anything publicly until a charge was actually brought. But in waiting until the beginning of the Pac-10 tournament to impose a suspension, it actually only holds a maximum penalty of three games and a minimum of one game should they lose to Washington State. It definitely wouldn't be difficult to argue that Overton deserved a tougher penalty.
However, the other way to look at this is that in addition to undisclosed team penalties being imposed, losing Overton even for one game right now seriously jeopardizes the NCAA Tournament chances of a team already firmly on the bubble, particularly given their recent performances - if they got swept by the Washington State Cougars with Overton, the likelihood of them finding a way to win without Overton would immediately seem rather low on the surface.
In other words, the fortunes of the Huskies on Thursday could end up riding on the consequences of Overton's mistake. That's a heavy burden to bear for any competitor and it wouldn't be difficult to argue that's essentially what Overton faces in addition to legal consequences.
In a strange sort of way a one-game suspension during the most important game of Overton's senior year that began with such high expectations could end up being even more painful than a three-game suspension should the Huskies make a return to the championship game.
And that's something Overton would have to live with: in addition to letting down his coach and fans, he might have let down his teammates. It doesn't matter how callous you might make him out to be from afar in light of his demeanor on the court or his transgressions off of it - that's a difficult way to end a career.
Regardless of what any of us as outsiders think should've been done, at some level, you have to trust Romar's judgment - just as he said Athletic Director Scott Woodward trusts his judgment - and believe that in wanting the best for one his guys that he didn't simply dismiss the gravity of Overton's actions and shelter him; you have to trust that Romar imposed consequences that would best help Overton grow as a player by helping him learn from his mistakes. That's ultimately all that was in his control, even if he didn't announce the entirety of those consequences publicly.
You have to trust that Romar had some sense of what this consequence would mean to his player and at simultaneously sent a message to him by acting so deliberately and a message to the public by acting swiftly.
Nevertheless, learning does require deliberate action on the part of the learner as well. And in not merely imposing the harshest consequence possible, Romar is placing an enormous amount of faith in his player. Certainly, he's done his best to establish conditions for learning by showing that he cares for his player and putting him in position to respond to the consequences instead reacting for the intensified public scrutiny that might have come from penalizing him twice.
So if the explicitly message of Romar's remarks was that we all make mistakes and there are consequences, perhaps the implicit message was that the best of us are able to learn from those mistakes and change our ways of interacting with the world.
There won't truly be a second chance in this situation because Overton can't undo what he's done, but he can honor the faith that Romar has placed in him by expecting him to change.
Overton's challenge is living up to the faith Romar has in him to change.
Perhaps our challenge is to emulate the Romar's grace in handling this situation by acknowledging that Romar has done all that he can to put Overton on a path to further growth even if we wish that his intolerable acts somehow carried tougher consequences.