M.J. Stewart and Mike Hughes were both suspended by UNC coach Larry Fedora for “violation of team rules”, which apparently includes the rule, “don’t get arrested”. As with any story of any college athlete getting in trouble with the law, it’s a nuanced situation that invites criticism of the way the UNC coaching staff handled the two players in question. In this case, the incident occurred on October 4th and wasn’t made public until yesterday when the players were formally charged and the arrest records became public to the media. On the other hand, UNC hasn’t played a game until October 3rd and the players might have been suspended as soon as coaches learned about the situation.
The suspensions come just two weeks after the dismissal of NC State running back Shadrach Thornton following multiple arrests over the course of his career, and will draw obvious and immediate comparisons to the way this situation is being handled at North Carolina. Predictably, fans of both schools are already at each other on social media arguing over which program comes out looking better about how their coaches handled law-breaking players.
We’ll never tell fans how to behave, and quite honestly, we don’t want them to behave. This is the kind of back and forth that make rivalries fun. We do, however, recommend some simple “do’s and don’ts” on how you should handle your rival’s brushes with the law.
Do criticize the coaching staff, provided you’re able to supply comparable evidence demonstrating that your coach would have handled it better than their coach.
Don’t get involved in the conversation without this evidence, because if your coach has never dealt with rule-breaking players in the past, he’s really good at sweeping things under the rug. For now.
Do question the charges, because they could be much worse or much less than what’s being reported, because lawyers and judges and police offers like sports as much as you do.
Don’t assume that these two separate, but equally important groups, the police who investigate crime and the District Attorneys who prosecute the offenders, “take their job as seriously as you do”, because here you are reading this at work.
Do admit your bias. Own it. Celebrate it. Question if UNC would have suspended these guys if Duke or Miami had been up next instead of Wake Forest. Question if the cop would have looked the other way if NC State didn’t have a critical, season-defining game ahead of them with Louisville coming to town. Conspiracies are fun.
Don’t pretend like you care very much about the privacy or rights of the individuals involved, because I remember how you acted towards your rivals when the roles were reversed.
DEFINITELY assume that the players involved are scapegoats for the superstars. Or, on the other side, DEFINITELY assume that if your stars get in trouble, they’re taking the fall for teammates because they’re such great leaders.
Finally, and most importantly, do understand that the media is TOTALLY choosing what to report and what to ignore based on the schools involved. You saw The Wire. You know how newsies are. And don’t forget that all of the crazy is on the other side of the fence, and you’re just defending helpless student athletes or the society that’s terrorized by them. You know, depending on which side of the argument you’re on.