Jailed MSU player requires more than “‘no comment”

by | Oct 28, 2010 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

You should never go from a jail cell to a college football field, so I sure hope Mark Dantonio doesn’t reinstate cornerback Chris L. Rucker – who is scheduled to get out of jail today – in time for Saturday’s game against Iowa.

We don’t know for sure, because when Dantonio was asked this at his weekly news conference, and also was asked about a zero-tolerance policy on second chances, here was his response:

“Well, in both cases, I’ll just not answer your question,” Dantonio said Tuesday. “How’s that?”

Not good. This is not some minor tussle between a focused coach and a prying media. This is about lives, crime, policy and standards. No time for the silent treatment.

For those just joining this story, Rucker, 22, is a very talented senior who was one of 15 Spartans at the scene of that dorm altercation last November. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery and received 12 months’ probation. That probation included no buying, owning or drinking alcohol.

Yet three Sundays ago, Rucker was arrested at 2:19 a.m. and charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated. He had a blood-alcohol content of .10, which is over the legal limit of .08.

Drinking – a probation buster – would have been bad enough. Getting behind a wheel made it reprehensible.

The right words, the right time

Dantonio, a good guy, is clearly in the midst of a special season at Michigan State, one that, because of the coach’s heart attack after the Notre Dame game, already has taught valuable lessons about life and health.

Why stop there? The lives and health of innocent people are endangered every time someone drinks and drives.

If the coach needs reminders, look no further than the football world or his own state. How about Cleveland’s Donte Stallworth, driving while intoxicated and killing a pedestrian with his Bentley? How about Reggie Rogers, the former Lion, killing three teenagers while driving drunk? How about those four Lake Shore teens killed last year by a drunken driver?

This is not some injury update. This is not the time to say “none of your business.” This is the time to say something like:

“We do not tolerate any of our players drinking and driving. Not a little bit. Not at all.

“And we do not tolerate our players violating probation. Not a little bit. Not at all.

“And so, no, Chris L. Rucker will not play this weekend or any weekend, because he has not lived up to the standards we have for our student-athletes in this program.

“Next question.”

The state deserves to know

What’s so hard about that? Instead, Dantonio chose to duck behind the “I’m not commenting on … our personnel issues at this time.”

This is not a “personnel” issue. This isn’t some human resources department. It’s a football team at a state university made up of kids who are mostly on scholarship. You don’t get to keep this stuff secret. The citizens of the state have a right to know the standards at this school and on this team, especially when it comes to crimes.

And these were crimes. It doesn’t matter if Rucker was just a little over the limit. Doesn’t matter if he was, as court testimony indicated, only minimally involved in the dorm ruckus.

A little can lead to a lot, especially in bad habits, particularly in drinking. No surprise that a few years ago, Reggie Rogers, even after killing those teens, was arrested again for DUI (at least his sixth instance), and actually fell asleep in the police car after calling an officer “Coach James.”

Rogers was given extra chances, too.

Maybe Dantonio isn’t even considering bringing Rucker back. If so, he should say it. In college football, a coach is there to mold young men, on the field and sometimes with tough love off it. I am not advocating throwing Rucker out of the Spartan family. After eight days in jail, he needs support, now more than ever.

But playing in a big game – playing in any game – is a privilege, and Dantonio should be sending that signal, even if it costs him a great player. Because there’s something bigger at stake here.

It’s called character.

And the coach shouldn’t be quiet about it. He should shout it to the rafters.

Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).



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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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