Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Is There an Adult I Can Talk To?

This morning, David Brandon and the athletic department issued a well-written, cogent statement that addressed almost everything people reasonably expected to know in the aftermath of the Shane Morris incident while simultaneously taking an appropriate tone. We messed up, we can't let this happen again, and we're updating our procedures to address this issue.

However, the statement comes about 24 hours too late. If that statement is issued at 12:52 AM on Monday morning, there's grumbling and some side-eye. At 12:52 AM on Tuesday morning, everything has changed. Michigan has been put under the microscope on not just ESPN, but has crossed all the way over to Good Morning America. You've promised the media a "medical statement" that never really showed up, unless this is it. And you've sent your head football coach up to his press conference to stand there and look like someone's idiot cousin you wouldn't trust to run a doughnut shop, let alone a multi-million-dollar football program where young men risk their health and safety on a daily basis.

To be fair, this may be the case. Brandon's statement says that Morris was diagnosed with a concussion on Sunday. Brady Hoke didn't get in touch with his injured quarterback to ask how he's doing? Or Shane Morris didn't know he has a concussion? Neither of these seem reasonable, and one is more plausible than the other.

At the moment, I'm choosing not to believe that Hoke knew about the concussion and failed to disclose it. For some reason I'm more comfortable believing him to be incompetent than mendacious.

The whole situation has been bungled, from the initial incident through everything after. You have commentators worrying about Morris's safety BEFORE he takes a killshot to the head, then you send the kid back into the huddle for one more play, and even when he's removed no one hides his helmet and tells the coaches he's out. And after all this has happened, nobody thinks "This is going to be a major problem for us. We have to get to the bottom of this and fix what is wrong."

Even if it's somebody thinking only of the bad PR that's certain to come from it, Michigan had a small window to get in front of this. I don't expect more than window dressing from the athletic department, but when I don't even get that I just sputter with anger. How dumb do they think I am? How out of touch are they to not understand that this is a Big Deal? Concussions have been a major flashpoint for *years*. The NFL is on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars, and the settlement is still derided as insufficient. Whatever intern they have on Twitter had to have noted the explosion of rage when Morris was left in, and that has to be kicked up the food chain to someone with real authority.

At that point, it's all hands on deck. Who saw the hit? Who saw the aftermath? Was this communicated to anyone? Why or why not? Why was Morris allowed to re-enter the game? Who made that decision? How do we make sure this never happens again? Has he been diagnosed with a concussion? Do we have his permission to release his condition?

It takes a while to get answers to all these questions, to process them, and to respond to the additional questions they raise. It doesn't take 55+ hours, and you don't let your statement drop in the middle of the night. Now we're convinced you're hiding something.

We expect smoke, mirrors, and obfuscation when you talk about who's practicing well, how the team is looking, how much respect you have for your next opponent, and even run-of-the-mill player injuries. Someone's got a boo-boo, another guy has a "lower body injury." This is different. This is about ethics, not a player's condition. Craig is right; it's more akin to the dissembling about Gibbons than questions about when Funchess will be back up to speed.

Fort Schembechler is Fort Schembechler, but whether the team is any good will always be settled on Saturday. This is about governance and that nebulous thing that Fielding Yost called the "Spirit of Michigan." One of the better things about the Spirit of Michigan is that it evolves over the years and we expect an ever higher standard of the people who represent us. Yost himself was an old unreconstructed racist* and an anti-Catholic, and we certainly expect better of our leaders today.

The University of Michigan has again been named the top public university in the US, as we were reminded by the video board on Saturday. We expect to be treated like adults, at the bare minimum. We raised ticket prices because we want more money to pay higher salaries and build more buildings. We expect Michigan to compete for Big Ten championships, and we aren't playing like that kind of team. Shane Morris got hit in the head and he should have been removed from the game immediately.

This is not hard. Hard is setting regular ticket prices at the maximum level where fans still feel like more than a revenue stream. Hard is setting a price on student tickets where you get a good amount of value back while giving students an incentive to use their tickets *and* make Michigan football a habit that lasts for life. Hard is sorting through all the available candidates to find a John Beilein and to get a succession plan together when Red Berenson finally decides to hang it up. And if you bungle the easy tasks, we don't trust you with the hard ones.

*At least until Willis Ward joined the team. Yost, of course, still sat Ward against Georgia Tech. Improvement is not always continuous.

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