You don’t have to be a lawyer to know that, for most of Michigan State’s eight suspended football players, criminal charges weren’t necessary. And yet seven of them have now been charged, six with misdemeanor assault. One, Khary Crump, with felonious assault.
I’m going to to put aside Crump’s situation here. He swung a helmet repeatedly at a Michigan player. He doesn’t deserve to have his life ruined for it, but he’s likely going to pay a steeper price than the others for what went down in the Michigan Stadium tunnel on Oct. 29.
The others, though, have paid their debt.
It’s not that what they were involved in doesn’t constitute assault. It does, if it happened in everyday life. But while these altercations occurred in a stadium tunnel postgame, they still happened in the arena, so to speak, minutes after an emotionally charged competition.
We don’t usually criminally charge people for fights that happen in the athletic realm. The swinging of a helmet at another player is a bit of a different deal. But, for the most part, this is a slippery slope and a place we don’t want to go. We don’t want this precedent. Besides, we’re all a little complicit in the overwrought emotion of this rivalry, which is then left to be decided by 19- to 22-year-old young men whose performance determines the happiness and reactions of so many others.
I don’t know Washtenaw County prosecutor Eli Savit. I have no reason to doubt his judgment and character. I haven’t seen any evidence yet beyond the videos that we’ve all seen. But I do know that this rivalry is one that truly turns rational people irrational, that leads grownups to fawn all over their school’s respective head coaches and stick up for them no matter what, as if that coach cares about them at all. I know this was a decision made by an elected official with “Go Blue” in his Twitter bio, a decision that negatively impacts the lives of a number of MSU football players and the program, a decision pushed for by Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. And I do wonder if it would have reached this point, especially for the six charged with misdemeanor assault, if Harbaugh hadn’t been so vocal in his desire to see criminal charges filed.
You don’t have to look far on social media to find attorneys picking apart elements of Savit’s decision or lack of explanation — though some of them are perhaps also under this rivalry’s spell.
Nor do you have to go far on social media to find fan behavior every bit as egregious as a swinging helmet. These still-suspended MSU players have endured attacks laced with racial undertones and worse. And now these young Black men face the possibility of having their names in the justice system, and for what? Did we need this?
Athletes can’t allow themselves to be goaded into violence. Crump is paying for that. But these other six have also suffered consequences — to their football careers, which are on a ticking clock, and to their reputations.
Contact Graham Couch at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.