Since Monday night's release of the dashboard cam video footage of Antonio Morrison's weekend arrest for resisting arrest and harassing a police dog, public opinion has shifted strongly in Morrison's favor. Morrison appears to be doing little to resist arrest and nothing out of malice, while a clearly exasperated cop reacts a bit more sternly than most people are willing to condone in a circumstance like this.
I don't disagree with that: I thought this charge was mostly bullshit in the first place, and think that even more comfortably given the dashboard cam video. But I do disagree with the burgeoning movement to get Morrison's suspension reduced — #LetMorrisonPlay — that has sprouted in the wake of the video's release.
It started here last night:
Wuff Wuff #LetMorrisonPlay— Gator Nation (@GatorNationU) July 23, 2013
Since then, some bigger names have lent their opinions to the cause:
And, to be clear, I respect Jones, and the Our Two Bits crew, and Carrillo — the only Florida employee I've seen tweet using the hashtag — and respect them voicing their opinions. But I also respectfully disagree.
Will Muschamp's statement from Sunday read like this:
"I’m extremely disappointed in Antonio Morrison’s decision making. He has been suspended from the team and will miss at least two games to begin the season."
Muschamp doesn't say that he's disappointed Morrison got arrested, or that he's disappointed in the crime, but that he's disappointed in Morrison's decision-making. And I get that, because even if Bill Arnold, the Alachua County Sheriff's Deputy who arrested Morrison, overreacted to someone barking at his police dog, Morrison still made a really bad decision to bark at the dog.
The context of Morrison's actions really matters here. He's out around 3 a.m. in a part of Gainesville that is widely known to be shady, near an establishment that cops get called to frequently, the cops have been called, and they've shown up with lights flashing. Just three weeks ago, Morrison had gotten a deferred prosecution agreement for a more serious incident, and almost certainly been told that another mistake would jeopardize his future. And yet he still thought that barking at a police dog was a harmless enough idea to try in close proximity to cops at 3 a.m., for some reason.
In my book, that's bad decision-making, regardless of how the cop reacted. Messing around near a police presence late at night is a stupid, immature risk to take. Morrison has to know better, as a person, than to put himself in that situation. He has to know that, as a player and teammate, putting himself in the position to be suspended is a selfish act that lets down people who rely on him. And he has to know that, as a representative of the University of Florida, an arrest on bullshit charges still looks like an arrest to much of the world. (And, sadly, Morrison probably has to realize that he, as a black man, cannot give cops excuses to ring him up on bullshit charges.) This is a chance for Muschamp to help teach Morrison those lessons.
To Muschamp, certainly, Morrison's will count the same on the tally sheet of his players' misdeeds kept by those who want to use numbers and not nuance to argue about Muschamp's stewardship of the Gators. Muschamp also told reporters at SEC Media Days that he considered himself "100 percent responsible" for his players' actions as a head coach. If Morrison makes a dumb decision, even if it's compounded by others' dumb decisions, that reflects on Muschamp, who has publicly taken on the noble, misguided task of being responsible for teaching players right and wrong.
Muschamp could send a message to the world, if he wants, by rescinding Morrison's suspension. Blistering the Alachua County Sheriff's Office for screwing up and possibly being too harsh on a football player because he's a football player would feel righteous and good, and would both win Muschamp a lot of fans who believe Morrison got railroaded and endear him to recruits (and their families) who want a coach that goes to bat for them. Muschamp's done this before, for Sharrif Floyd, to great effect.
But that path has its perils. Muschamp flip-flopping on a suspension would be reminiscent of Urban Meyer (whose shadow, especially in regards to discipline, Muschamp and Florida are trying to outrun), and would get him ripped for inconsistency. Muschamp blasting cops is probably not going to play well with cops, who are still going to be doing their jobs no matter what Muschamp says. And Muschamp exonerating Morrison in the eyes of the Gators would feel a little like Muschamp asserting that he knows better than the law, which is a little much for me, and would maybe say to Morrison, a guy who needs nothing more right now than as much distance as possible from officers of the law, that what he did was neither wrong nor stupid.
Frankly, I think there's a better path available. Muschamp could defend his player, and express frustration that a bad situation unfortunately exacerbated Morrison's bad decision, but explain that Morrison putting himself in that position was the root of the suspension, and that a Florida player cannot be arrested twice in just over a month and not face significant consequences. This would help convey both that Muschamp thinks, as most right-thinking people who know the full story do, that Morrison's arrest was bullshit, but that Morrison, as many right-thinking people would agree, has to do a better job of avoiding trouble, and that Muschamp takes his players having run-ins with the law seriously.
I think the evidence to date — the dismissal of Janoris Jenkins and the suspensions-turned-transfers of A.C. Leonard and Jessamen Dunker, mostly — suggests that Muschamp already does that. But there's no doubt that Aaron Hernandez's sad summer and Morrison's bad five weeks have gotten more people to pay more attention to Muschamp's discipline now than ever before, and likely more than they ever will again.
This is a chance to draw a line in the sand for his players — "I'll go to bat for you once, but just once, and only if it's minor; you cannot do this repeatedly and remain a Florida Gator in good standing" — and sound a horn for people who think Morrison was unjustly treated. All he has to do is lament the situation resulting in an arrest, but stick to his frustration with Morrison putting himself in that situation.
I hope that's what he does. Letting Morrison play would show that Muschamp's bark about responsibility has no bite, and might actually be the sort of enabling that columnists use as a bogeyman; letting Morrison sit and expressing frustration that he got bit for barking would show that Muschamp stands behind his player, and that he takes the responsibility he's given himself for keeping them out of trouble seriously.
And it's probably the best way to teach Antonio Morrison what he needs to learn.