South Carolina football players have been making headlines over the past week, and this time for the wrong reason. First, backup DB Victor Hampton was kicked off the team, only to be reinstated today. Second, starting spur DeVonte Holloman was arrested for DUI after failing a breathalyzer at a checkpoint near Williams-Brice Stadium. In the coming weeks, you can expect South Carolina to come under a lot of fire for these incidents. People will say we're waffling on Hampton, and if Holloman remains on the team and, in particular, if he ends up playing against Georgia, they'll say we were too soft on him, regardless of whether the DUI charges hold.
On the one hand, I can see where the critics are coming from, particularly with the Hampton case. It seems reasonable to believe that Hampton, who has been a bit of a problem player during his brief time in Columbia, shouldn't receive another chance, and if he does deserve one, why was he kicked off the team in the first place? The situation is a bit strange, to say the least. Holloman is a bit different considering that he's been a good kid for most of his time here, but DUI is a fairly serious crime and has to be dealt with accordingly.
However, I also worry that we as fans oftentimes expend a lot of energy railing about what sorts of punishment offending players deserve, and the more I think about it, the more I think that we have taken a very compassion-less and, indeed, anti-educational view of player discipline. We tend to be very unforgiving of the various misdemeanors and snafus that many college football players get involved in, regardless of the fact that such incidents are par for the course for many young adults. This is particularly true if the said player is not a member of your team--most fans have a strong ability to rationalize the behavior of their players and coaches but not those of other programs. Treating these kinds of incidents on a zero-tolerance basis--if you do it, you're gone or you miss X number of games--may seem like true justice, but such policies are oftentimes easy ways to avoid dealing with the real issue, which is teaching young adults who are in formative stages in their lives to exhibit better behavior.
With Hampton, what good would dismissal do him? Dismissal would give up a chance to make a better man out of this kid. Of course, at some point you have to say enough is enough and write off a guy's proclivity to make better of himself. However, although I don't know the details, I believe that moment hasn't come yet for Hampton. That seems to be what our coaches think, and I trust them on that.
I should note that I'm not saying that such players don't deserve some sort of penalty. If Holloman is convicted of DUI, he should have to go through the legal system, pay his fines, take his classes, etc., just like other first-time DUI offenders do. Our coaches should put strong conditions on Hampton and should challenge him to live up to them. However, our coaches should put educating these players before placating the folks out there who believe that examples need to be made when kids screw up. Sometimes educating might involve very harsh penalties, but oftentimes it involves other conditions. We should all remember that as we evaluate the various off-season police-blotter news that inevitably will happen to us and other teams over the course of the summer.