This isn't the type of publicity new head coach Derek Dooley was hoping for.
By now, news of a bar-clearing brawl involving numerous members of the University of Tennessee football team has become the major story in college football.
Allegations are still flying fast and furiously, and more details are certain to come to light over the next few days. And while accounts of how the fight began and escalated vary, there seem to be certain undisputed facts.
At least 7 Volunteers were seen hitting and kicking a local man, Gary Russell. Russell needed medical treatment for wounds to his head and face. Multiple players were also involved in an attack on off-duty Knoxville police officer Robert Capouellez, who tried to break up the fight. Capouellez was knocked unconscious, and was beaten and kicked while on the ground. He was hospitalized for several days before being released.
Two players were arrested: Darren Myles Jr. for assaulting a UT police officer and resisting and evading arrest, and incoming freshman receiver Da’Rick Rogers for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
In the wake of the arrests, Vols head coach Derek Dooley dismissed Myles from the team and gave indefinite suspensions to defensive players Marlon Walls and linebacker Greg King for their roles in the incident. Rogers, one of the stars of Dooley’s inaugural recruiting class, is awaiting further discipline.
Also at the center of the current ongoing investigation are several other team members including Montori Hughes and Denarius Moore, who allegedly led the attacks and were at least partially responsible for the brawl’s outbreak. Hughes has already retained counsel.
The investigation is expected to stretch into next week, and there will surely be more relevant information in the coming days. But even with what is known now, it is clear that decisive steps must be taken.
The Tennessee program has long had a reputation for poor behavior. In fact, one website tracks college football players’ criminal activities in a tongue-in-cheek contest known as the Fulmer Cup, named after longtime Vols head man Phil Fulmer. But this incident could prove to be one of the ugliest and most damaging that the university has ever been faced with.
In a way Russell (pictured) and Capouellez are both lucky that their injuries weren't even more severe.
Regardless of who started the fight, there is no reason or excuse in the world that could justify beating an unconscious man. Nevermind that the man was a police officer.
There’s no justification for a group of oversized athletes ganging up on a 5’8″, 215 pound bar patron, even if he was the initial aggressor – a claim that seems rather dubious when one considers that Hughes alone is 6’4″, 312 pounds. Even heavily intoxicated, one would probably think twice before taking on a couple of tons worth of football players.
There’s no justification for assaulting the university’s police force or resisting arrest.
And there’s no justification for other members of the team standing by and letting this happen. Reports indicated that there may have been as many as 20 Vols present at the bar, though not all were directly involved with the brawl. What exactly were the bystanding teammates doing as all of this unfolded?
Charges will almost certainly be filed when the dust settled. Some could be felony counts. Assault and battery is an obvious possibility, but given the circumstances, could they extend beyond that? Attempted manslaughter perhaps? It would be amazing to see this issue resolved without someone going to jail, given the public nature of the fight and the severity of the injuries.
Moreover, the incident calls into question the character of every player there. There are probably some who don’t deserve blame, but figuring all of that out is going to be difficult for Dooley and his staff. More suspensions and dismissals are necessary and should be expected. Anyone connected to the case needs to be under scrutiny.
And it gets worse for Dooley. Sandy Morton, the co-owner of Bar Knoxville, told The Chattanooga Times Free Press that Vols players have been given “VIP status” at his establishment, which included the perk of not having to pay a cover charge. That’s bad news, because from the NCAA’s perspective such treatment could violate the rules governing what benefits an athlete may receive.
However this pans out it is and will continue to be a significant black eye for the program, and will result in some serious blowback. It’s up to Coach Dooley to stay out of front of the storm, doing the right thing on his own before he’s forced to take action by external pressure. That, at least, would show that he and the university are serious about cleaning up the program and perhaps even changing the culture of poor judgment.
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