Playing political football in Oregon

By Jerome Solomon
Updated: October 3, 2009

HOUSTON — LeGarrette Blount might return to the Oregon Ducks later this football season, and that is unfortunate.

The senior running back should have been on the field with the team for Saturday’s game against Washington State.

Blount, as you probably recall — especially since it has been replayed a few thousand times — threw a punch and hit some jerk, er, Boise State’s Byron Hout after the first game of the college football season.

It was the first game of the season, and in a ridiculously political overreaction, Chip Kelly, the first-year coach at Oregon, suspended Blount for the rest of the year. That was a month ago.

Kelly, in another ridiculous political action, reversed his position Friday and announced Blount could earn his way back onto the team in another month if he climbs the “ladder” of redemption.

Kelly suspended Blount for the season to impress the crowd. He is peeking out the door to check the crowd’s reaction.

The earliest Blount could return would be after missing seven games, but he has already missed three.

That should be more than enough for such a mild transgression anyway. (Did we mention Hout wasn’t suspended for starting the whole thing?)

Blount has done a lot right since the incident. His locker-room apology immediately after he embarrassed himself was from the heart and seemed genuine.

The letter he wrote to the school newspaper that was published Friday said all the right things. It was something recommended by Kermit Washington, whose life was forever altered by a one-punch incident in 1977. Blount also sought advice from Tony Dungy, who is fast becoming the respected voice of reason in sports discipline.

What about that discipline?

We rarely discuss the inequity of a football or basketball player being treated like a felon for throwing one punch, while we laugh when baseball players get into all-out brawls.

College baseball players, who play more games in a season than football players do in a career, are given an automatic — and measly — three-game suspension if they are ejected for fighting.

Why is there an “automatic” suspension for fighting in baseball? Because it happens all the time.

When Arizona players bragged about their fight with UMass in March — six players were ejected for fighting — there wasn’t a national outcry.

A sucker, punched

But let a football player get into it with somebody on national television — even if the guys slaps him on the shoulder pad and says something to taunt him after a big victory — and the supersensitive are calling for him to be arrested and charged with assault.

Talk about ridiculous.

Kelly’s attempt to make an example out of Blount turned this lousy punch — it didn’t it even draw blood — into the shot heard around the world.

This was no Rudy T-Kermit Washington situation.

Let’s not get into the much-publicized notion that Blount sucker-punched Hout. There is an advisory on the first page of the trash-talk survival manual that warns trash-talkers to be wary of a physical response by the target of verbal assault.

Hout talked trashed, then looked away for a split second.

Los Angeles Times NFL columnist Sam Farmer put it best in that Hout wasn’t sucker-punched, he was just a sucker, punched.

As the old saying goes, “Don’t start none, won’t be none.”

Coach overreacted

Another amazing thing is there has been almost no talk about the fan who cursed at Blount and then punched him as he was leaving the field. How did that get little or no coverage?

Perhaps because it was easier to vilify Blount than some no-name idiot in the crowd.

Kelly overreacted to the initial situation because he was worried about the backlash for not taking the right action.

Kelly is acting like a politician. Politicians do something (or often nothing) depending on the direction and strength of the wind.

Right? Left? Doesn’t matter. Football coaches shouldn’t be politically responsive. That is what Kelly did in suspending Blount and what he did in sending a fan a personal check to cover expenses for that disappointing season-opening road trip to Idaho.

And that is what Kelly is doing now in announcing he might give Blount time off for good behavior.

Blount should be playing already.