On Thursday September 3, the University of Oregon played Boise State in a season-opening game which was important to both schools, as they were each nationally-ranked and hoping to start off strong. The game ended in a 19-8 win for Boise State, after starting with a larger-than-usual show of sportsmanship. An ironic gesture, given the ending. At the game's end, Byron Hout of Boise State approached LeGarrette Blount of Oregon, slapped him on the shoulder pad to get his attention, and yelled something at him which has not yet been revealed to the public. As he turned away to face Boise State head coach Chris Peterson, who was pulling Hout away from Blount, Blount angrily launched a punch which landed on Hout's jaw. To make matters worse, Blount then attempted to punch another player, struggled with his own teammates as they wrestled him towards the locker room, and had to be restrained by police from attacking fans who taunted him at the stands as he left the field. Still worse, the game and the actions of Blount were nationally televised by ESPN. And then the day after that, it was discovered that Blount had been suspended from the Oregon team back in February.
Friday, Oregon coach Chip Kelley suspended running back LaGarrette Blount for the rest of the season.
To some degree, the decision to end Blount's collegiate career (he is a Senior, and the suspension includes any bowl games that Oregon may earn) was predictable. Blount's action was not only blatent and deliberate, not to mention nationally televised, Coach Kelly serves on the NCAA's committee which address athletes' sportsmanship, and Kelly had already been under fire for an apparent lack of discipline on the Ducks' team. The public opinion on the matter seemed to demand a heavy punishment, and so the axe fell quickly in this case. To be honest, I don't know that I disagree all that much with the decision, except of course that Blount will not have a public opportunity to show his better side. I might have expected an indefinite suspension to be a better fit, but on the other hand the Oregon officials have sent a clear message and presumably have put this behind them.
But I am writing this article to address the other man who needs to accept accountability: Byron Hout. No, I am not saying that Hout should be suspended or even given any kind of official punishment for his part in the incident. That said, I am concerned about his part in the event. Hout chose to come over to Blount, whatever he said was obviously meant to be trash talk, and Hout's grinning face as he turned towards his coach indicates that he was just fine with insulting a key player on an opposing team. What Hout did was clearly out of bounds. If it has happened during the game, it would have earned a penalty for taunting, and I speak as a former UIL football official in Texas (which uses the NCAA rulebook). Normally, a good coach considers the damage done when assessing punishment to a player for an infraction. A face-mask penalty, for example, one thing, but if they score the winning touchdown because on 3rd-and-20 you tackled the runner by his facemask, then you are in big trouble. A false start may not be a big deal, unless of course it happens on 4th down and pushes you just out of field goal range. And sportsmanship is a much bigger issue when something you say impacts the game's outcome or the image of the school. Back in my day, players were expected to wear dress clothes and ties on the bus and to represent the school and team, with total respect. It was silly at times and made the trip longer. But then again, you knew you stood for something worth your work, win or lose. Call me old school, but the sport could do with getting back to that.
Coach Peterson has said that he will meet privately with Hout and considers the incident a 'teachable moment'. The problem, of course, is that the incident was public and Hout needs to make some gesture to show he recognizes that his taunt started a series of actions which had serious consequences. Hout did not make Blount throw a punch, but he knew he was not acting in the best interests of his school, team, or the game. And Hout's unsporting behavior was public, and so it needs a public response. At the very least, Hout should apologize in public for his behavior, and Peterson needs to show that such behavior has consequences, real ones.