Friday, February 3, 2012
Abraham Lincoln once said, “To sin by silence, when they should protest, makes cowards of men!” Who would have guessed that these words would have such powerful value over one hundred and sixty years later, and be applicable on the campus of Akron University? Who would have imagined that it would be about a disgraced football coach, Jim Tressel, verses a graduate student who was stigmatized for having a mental illness.
Personally, I do not care that as a coach he has a string of corrupt behavior that would have made Richard Nixon blush, and his true character would qualify him to be a member of the Board of Directors of Enron. The fact that his actions placed one football program on probation, and brought sanctions against another; lied constantly, and walked away immensely wealthy, again, does not interest me. However, the modern day lynch mob used against this graduate assistant to protect a football player, does bring a cause of concern to the forefront. It was his behavior, and his taking satisfaction out of his fans attacking this woman, that instigated this near tragic situation, should cause people to hit the pause button. It also brought to light his possible inherent bigotry against those afflicted with one of these disorders. This, in spite of the knowledge that one out of four students will have mental health issues while on a college campus.
This story of Tressel begins in 2002, during an examination in a classroom at Ohio State University. It was here that several football players were observed getting preferential treatment. In simple terms, cheating! This teaching assistant, Norma McGill, decided that was not appropriate behavior and reported it to her superiors, as she is legally obligated to do. One of the players involved was one of Tressel’s outstanding young men, Maurice Clarett. In spite of excelling academically, with the unique challenge of her condition, Norma became easy fodder for this lynch mob. As far as Clarett is concerned, even though he is a felon and armed robber, he did not suffer from a mental illness, so he belonged to Tressel’s moral universe.
At this time, a firestorm arose, not about possible academic fraud, but about how could anyone question the veracity of a football star. The Vest, as Tressel was known by, circled his players for protection, and had the administrators running interference for him. The teaching assistant was not so fortunate, as she was left to fend for herself.
During this time, while Tressel was defending Maurice, he sat quietly as this girl became the brunt of the angry mob. He did what he was skilled at doing, and that to be a silent coward. The classless students and alumni found glee in referring to this woman as “Norma the Mental freak”, or the famous, “let’s get this black bitch off campus!” Where was the vest through all of this? No one has an idea, as he truly was not backing this student, but preaching what a marvelous kid Maurice was. Perhaps he was busy writing his future book on ethics and honesty? Strangely, between Tressel, Norma and the Ohio State Administration, only Norma, the “crazy one”, told the truth.
What makes this mocking of this teaching assistant all the more shocking is that no one ever witnessed any of her “unstable behavior”. Her boss at the time, a professor Kenneth Goings, admitted in a New York Times article, that he never witnessed any bizarre behavior from her, but he had heard rumors. One of the hallmarks of the character assassination of Norma, the ignorance of Tressel and the Ohio State Administration, is they were stupid enough to judge someone on rumors, not facts. Tresselgate, as this should be called, was not run by many deep thinking individuals.
Sadly, the bigots who used her illness against her won. Norma, fearing for her wellbeing left her job, her school, and returned to her home in Kentucky, minus her health insurance. Soon, she felt the effects of her untreated illness, became psychotic, now her life is in ruins; and Jim Tressel was complicit in her destruction. Inexplicably, Ohio State never once reached out to her, but when Maurice left prison for his armed robbery conviction, he was welcomed back in open arms. She became the forgotten victim of “The Vest”, and he refuses to acknowledge his actions or lack of in this episode.
After being hired by Akron, Tressel announced, “My intentions have always been to help young people.” If what he said were true, then there would be no Tresselgate, or any other misconduct to report. However, how many other students like this teaching assistant, who do not belong to his social network, take the risk of having their lives turned upside down for just telling the truth? However, as a person who suffers from mental illness, we do find that treatment commonplace with shortsighted people, so what administrators at Akron would even notice any misconduct towards its students.
I am all for second chances, but this guy continues to gain more than his fair share of them. The two hundred thousand dollars they pay him, plus benefits would be better spent on students in need, not for someone who feels that the rules do not apply. However, since they do not even know what his duties will be, perhaps this is just a form of “wealth fare”, which is welfare for the rich. He could use this to add to his already lucrative pension. Never forget, there are foolish people who look past his lying and lack of integrity and worship the ground he walks. It must be repeated; Norma never received nor was offered a second chance at Ohio State.
Today, there are so many people with blind allegiance to him; they forget that Norma McGil could have been their own daughter. They defend his most blatant disregard for decency with visceral comments like, “Oh they all do it!” When I relate this story to people in a lecture setting I have had adults laugh and say, “Well, she was crazy!” Perhaps they are right that people like Norma and I are crazy, especially for believing in fairness and holding administrators accountable. To that, I will plead guilty myself.
One other issue is that we need to stop referring to the most recent scandal as Tattoogate, which is nothing more than cheap spin on this episode. They were just a small part of this transgression as people ignore the drugs, illegal payments, lying, and deception; and of the course, theft of school property. It is time that Tresselgate become synonymous with all these outrageous episodes.
I called the administration of Akron University about his hiring, and to discuss the possibility that Tressel will dehumanize another student like Norma, and I received a predicted response. It was, “We will get back to you!” I am not holding my breath in anticipation of a return call, as it is clear that people who are associated with this disgraced coach are too cowardly to face the truth; and they just hide in their administrative offices like the “silent cowards” referred to by the late President, Abraham Lincoln. Since the people who run this school are hiding, they too can join Tressel by sinning in silence, and have taxpayers and real hardworking students foot the bill.
It is said, that as a society, we have lost our moral compass, and few people will argue the validity of that. With that being said, it appears the administration at Akron University has not only lost that compass, they seem stuck in the Bermuda Triangle of ignorance. That is nothing for any of them to be proud of. But then again, when people sin in silence, who can hear them anyways!