by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

This might sound strange to Michigan fans who think this newspaper is out to “get” the basketball program, but I’m glad Robert Traylor decided to stay in school, so that one day he can prove all these charges false.

After all, if Traylor has nothing to hide, if he did nothing wrong, if he never took money from boosters, never had them pick up his hotel, food or car bills — if all the sources who have told the newspapers about alleged improprieties are lying (and anything is possible) — then Traylor should stick around to prove it. Running off to the NBA would only have made him and his school look guilty. Why do that?

I’m glad Traylor is staying for another reason: He was not ready for the NBA. Not physically. Not mentally. This is a kid who still hasn’t learned an NBA position and still battles his weight. He’s talented but unpolished.

He’s also a sensitive young man who cries after emotional losses. Nothing wrong with that. Lots of college sophomores do. But the NBA would eat him up. Especially someone like Traylor, who picked a school close to home, where his family and friends could see him play.

Can you imagine a 20-year-old like that suddenly on the road in Portland or Dallas, sitting alone in a hotel room, watching yet another TV movie? It’s almost cruel.

There’s no reason for that, and this whole bizarre 48 hours — in which word came out that Traylor was leaving, a press conference was called at his old high school, Maurice Taylor said that Traylor was being pushed out by the media, and then Traylor suddenly changed his mind, called an old high school coach and said, “Cancel the press conference, I’m staying” — this whole thing was crazy, weird, unpredictable and, in many ways, sad.

And maybe the only good part is the ending. He stays.

Pros no place to hide

Now I understand that Traylor is tired of having his family and friends investigated. He was reportedly angry over articles that question his vehicles, or the criminal backgrounds of pals.

I don’t blame him. I’d be angry, too. It’s no fun to be questioned. It’s no fun to be suspected. Contrary to popular belief, it is not beyond newspaper people to grasp this.

But non-newspaper people need to grasp something, too: Investigating things is not something you do for fun. It was Steve Fisher, after all, who turned in his own program after learning that booster Ed Martin had offered to pay for Traylor’s apartment and plane tickets for another player’s family. Fisher turned the program in. Not the media.

What the media did is what it does in all such cases — what you as the reading public should expect it to do: Follow up with questions. A logical one would be this: If Martin, a longtime follower of the program, was offering to pay for expensive things like an apartment and plane tickets, was that really the first and only time he’d ever done anything like that?

The NCAA is wondering the same thing.

But if the answer is no, it will come out. Running to the NBA is not the answer. True, there is no pressure to answer NCAA questions in the NBA. True, you get a real paycheck instead of having to account for every hamburger you buy.

But you shouldn’t feel chased out of college. One of the best lessons Fisher and Michigan can teach kids like Traylor is how to handle the hot lights of the media. Do you think they go away when you go pro? On the contrary, they get hotter. There are no sports information departments to cover for you. There are no coaches who say, “Practice is off-limits.”

You’re out there on your own.

You might as well learn how to handle it.

Take the good with the bad

As for Fisher and the program? I feel bad for the weight that hangs over them. I called Fisher’s house Friday and his wife, Angie, who is normally upbeat, sounded curt and weary. And Fisher, who usually returns calls, didn’t bother to do so. I can only figure that in their minds, we are all the same, all evil media people. All out to get them.

Well, that’s simply not true. I didn’t agree with how large the story was played about free tickets for Traylor’s friends — one of whom had a serious drug history. After all, many recruits have brought “questionable” friends to games. Our headline made it seem like a huge development.

But if that headline was too large, then so are the ones that run on the front page when Michigan wins a big game. Hey, it’s only a sport, what’s it doing bumping stories about war or politics? But you know what? No one from Michigan complains.

It’s called life in the spotlight, and it is grossly exaggerated on both ends. If you don’t like it, you shouldn’t be in it.

Robert Traylor is in it. He plans to be in it for a career. He did the right thing by staying put. If he — or any Michigan player or coach — broke the rules, he should face up to it.

And if all these rumors turn out to be lies, then the media need to trumpet that news as loudly as it trumpeted the charges.

Traylor should be there for either occurrence. We can only hope he doesn’t change his mind again.


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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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