Monday, October 3, 2022

Recent decision will reflect poorly on U

August 15, 2001

This week MSU added to its football team a convicted sex offender who served jail time before he could earn playing time. I am, of course, speaking of freshman tight end Eric Knott, from Detroit.

Now, I’m all about second chances in life. I know I’ve had mine, as have many people I know and associate with. But none of those people, myself included, were convicted of a sex crime or charged with rape.

Just because Knott had legal troubles doesn’t mean he shouldn’t get his chance at making amends and getting his life back on track. But do you think this would have happened if he wasn’t 6-foot-3, 265 pounds and had the ability to catch and run with a football? I don’t.

It’s a sad truth in the world today. For those who are privileged, rich, have outstanding athletic ability and so on, life is a little easier.

Take Darryl Strawberry, for example. If that guy couldn’t hit a baseball, he’d be in jail for life and then some.

Granted, Knott is not Strawberry. Strawberry went through his “second chances” like a pitcher goes through baseballs during a game. Plus, Strawberry’s rap sheet is lengthy to say the least. Hopefully Knott will realize the glorious opportunity handed to him and not screw it up.

Leonard Pitts Jr., who contributes to the Detroit Free Press semi-regularly, wrote a good column on how stars of any genre, sports included, need not be upstanding to get opportunities in life. He said Knott should be grateful he is a football star because if he wasn’t, he’d probably be behind bars. I agree completely with that.

Knott’s getting a second chance doesn’t bother me. It gives him a chance to prove people wrong and show lifestyles can be changed for the better despite what happened in the past.

What really bothers me is the way the university gave him a full-ride athletic scholarship and the message MSU is consequently sending out with this decision. That is, if you can excel at a sport, you can come to MSU for free regardless of your questionable life choices and character.

Does that mean winning and having good teams, so as to increase merchandising and television revenue, is of the utmost importance for a renowned institution like MSU? Knott won’t win or increase revenue by himself, but adding him and possibly others like him to the team could and it sends a bad message.

I know the admission of Knott to MSU was not the decision of one person, but of a group of people. But that group of people was quiet about it and made a key decision without consulting enough members of the MSU community.

A somewhat shocking revelation about the whole Knott saga is that MSU football coaches knew about the charges against him, yet they recruited him anyway. Former coach Nick Saban was quoted as saying he knew Knott had been charged with some kind of “sexual deal,” but didn’t know it was rape. Bobby Williams knew about it too, because he and Saban discussed it when deciding whether to keep recruiting Knott.

I know the MSU coaches’ concern is with winning football games and they would be stupid to not try and add a player of Knott’s quality to the squad. But aren’t some things more important than football?

Call me naive, but I thought student-athletes were supposed to be a reflection of what a school stood for. Does MSU stand for what Knott has done? Are we going to become the northern version of late-1980s/early-1990s Miami Hurricanes? The problem is, Knott’s admission sets a precedent. It says MSU will take players with serious problems. I’m glad Knott is getting a chance, I just wish it wasn’t at MSU.

Williams said Knott came out for practice Saturday and was determined and displayed a great work ethic. Could that be because he knows he should be in jail?

It’s like the Ray Lewis situation last year - where the Baltimore Ravens linebacker was accused of playing a part in a murder at an Atlanta nightclub. Lewis may have been acquitted, possibly a perk of being a pro football player, but his being involved in such a predicament raises a lot of eyebrows.

Lewis went out after the Atlanta situation and had his best year as a pro. He won the Most Valuable Player award and the Super Bowl, anchoring arguably the best defense in NFL history. He took advantage of his opportunity. He played like a man who knew he shouldn’t be on an NFL field, but somewhere a whole lot worse.

As for Knott, his playing football, receiving a free education at MSU and reduced charge seems to have come because he is good at football. It’s a shameful truth MSU had the chance to change, but didn’t.

Kevin Tuczek, a State News intern, can be reached at tuczekke@msu.edu.

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