by Tony Basilo In an Ecclesiastical sense, no one should be surprised that Tennessee recently had to suspend LaMarcus Coker â“indefinitelyâ” for what Volquest.com is reporting was a third failed drug test.
The reality of the Coker situation is that he doesn't come from the greatest of backgrounds, which makes it easy for UT's coaches to make a case for going to bat for him. The fact that he can fly and that they desperately need him for the upcoming season make his off-field choices a nuisance instead of a dilemma. Under UT's current policy, Coker must undergo counseling and jump through a few other minor hoops before being reinstated. And by the way, he will be reinstated. But chances are that this will do little to change the young man.
Those arguing for leniency in cases like this ask, â“What happens if you cut a young man like this loose and turn him back out into a cold and nihilistic society with a problem and nothing to live for?â” They say that you can't take football or sports away from these young peopleâ"that would really be asking for trouble. Perhaps. Still, it seems that allowing a guy like Coker to play ball at UT is a slippery slope.
Keeping Coker around shows that licentious behavior toward UT's drug testing and disciplinary policies is encouraged. The only way UT can get this young man's attention (and the football team's) is to either suspend him for an entire season or give him the boot entirely. No football. No practice. Just true character refining that focuses on his, not the team's, betterment.
Isn't this what the college experience is supposed to be about, character refinement? For some students, that's manifested in seven meandering years that are a search for self-actualization, let alone a degree. For others, it comes in overcoming illness and obstacles to persevere. Those are life lessons in the school of hard knocks. The real world doesn't grant four chances until actual contrition is shown and change is strived for. Coker won't learn until football is taken away from him. That's why he needs to go!
Maurice Staley knows whence I write. Staley was a prep phenom in Charlotte, N. C. when he signed with Tennessee back in 1994. Like Coker, he was physically gifted to the point where football came easy to him. Staley was on the fast track to stardom. He was the next Carl Pickens, Alvin Harper, et al. He's still one of the most physically gifted athletes I've witnessed in my couple decades in Knoxville. Yet Staley didn't want football and team unity. In his words, he chose â“rebellionâ” and â“drugsâ” and â“alcohol.â” His time at Tennessee ended when he was finally dismissed after several chances in '96.
Staley was so gifted that he signed a free agent contract with the Carolina Panthers despite very little film existing of him. Almost unheard of. In his words, he â“threw that chance away with drugs, snorting cocaine, stuff like that and alcohol.â”
Staley currently lives in Knoxville and expects to graduate in December. He's clean these days and sees himself in a new light. He went from pampered athlete to one who pampers fellow human beingsâ"some would say the most helpless among us. Staley and his wife Vicky currently work with severely autistic children.
Yes, and the winds of change were put into motion by Staley's dismissal from UT over a decade ago. What I asked Maurice is, can you truly get an athlete's attention with warnings and suspensions or does it take losing the very thing you do to perhaps invite change?
â“The sad part about it from my experience and what I've seen,â” he says, â“the only way that most individualsâ"I'm not saying all, but mostâ"learn is like this: The only way I learned my lesson is when I lost my ability to play football. It was only then that I began to appreciate life. So it's sad to say but in most cases that is what it takes.â”
Let's hope LaMarcus Coker can say the same years from now.
Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM. Visit www.tonybasilio.com for more information.
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