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Miami adds just another ugly chapter after its latest brawl

October 22, 2006|Shaun Powell | Newsday

We missed the white fight. You know, the brawl between football players at Holy Cross and Dartmouth last weekend where, interestingly, no TV cameras were around to capture the fists and the anger, to replay the lowlights constantly so a country would come away with an impression about "those people."

The phone rang a few times the other day, and the callers wanted my take on what they saw as an obvious and possibly racist double standard. That's because, while the preppy and privileged were slugging it out, a large group of mostly black players from Miami and Florida International stomped each other in a violent interlude that received major air time on your tube and YouTube.

Therefore: Where's the outrage for the prep boys gone wild? What about equal time? Why the difference? Well, one reason is rather obvious. We're a nation of rubberneckers, and when given something shocking that we can actually see, we're straining for a closer look. There was graphic video of Miami and Florida International players kicking and swinging helmets and in the case of one injured player, even crutches. In a morbid and grotesque way, it was entertainment for the networks, who exploited it to the hilt, satisfying an audience that craved it. There was none of Holy Cross vs. Dartmouth, a game nobody demanded to see. Therefore, no round-the-clock replays.

As for the punishment phase, hopefully justice is blind. Thirteen Miami players received suspensions and were ordered to perform community service for their part in the fight, while school officials at Dartmouth and Holy Cross were still sifting through the rubble Wednesday, searching for the guilty. In every which way, their behavior was just as repugnant, just as unforgivable, and therefore the punishment should be just as firm. The scales must be balanced, because fighting can't be justified or tolerated in any high school or college event.

Now let's get to the real issue here. The fight in Florida weighed heavier because the program at Miami has an ugly history of football players acting like fools.

But the aftermath and the reaction is racist only if that's the way you choose to see it.

A good many schools around the country play according to the rules, adopt an acceptable code of conduct, keep the trash-talking where it belongs -- in the trash -- and subscribe to the guidelines of sportsmanship. Oh, and a good many of these schools have a good number of black players. That should be pointed out.

What's unfair is when a group of renegades are lumped with everyone else. So please, make the distinction. Too many black football players at Miami for two decades have engaged in taunting, fighting, finger-pointing, stomping and all-around nonsense, but in no way do they represent all black players. Every race has its idiots; ours just seem to get recruited by Miami.

This is the same school that ran up 202 yards in penalties at the 1991 Cotton Bowl, most for unsportsmanlike conduct, and the nine players flagged were black. This is the school that once famously dressed in military fatigues, that had multiple players run afoul of the law in the Jimmy Johnson/Dennis Erickson eras, and that was tagged as "convicts" when it played the "Catholics" from Notre Dame. Sure, there are notable exceptions of former standout athletes and students at Miami: Russell Maryland, Jonathan Vilma, to name a few. But still.

As Tim Brown, the Heisman Trophy winner from Notre Dame, once told me: "They bring your momma into every conversation."

As a race of people, there are forces against us that we can't control: racism, decaying city school systems and hiring practices. As for our image, that's well within our control. When members of a group insist on embracing all the negative stereotypes and giving society more reasons to dislike or fear us, then those wounds are self-inflicted. Too often, these people find their way into pop culture and sports, where the influences are heavy and the spotlight is hot.

Their actions are seen across the country and suddenly, beliefs and biases are formed. The football program at Miami, of all places, should know that by now.

Next time Miami players fight, they really should swing a helmet at the right opponent: their reputation.

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