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Midweek Musings: On Caleb Brantley, Walton-Fagan, and Tim Tebow

Stray thoughts on some of the topics of the week.

NCAA Football:  Florida at Louisiana State Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Since Sunday night, when the news of former Florida Gators defensive tackle and NFL Draft prospect Caleb Brantley‘s misdemeanor charge for battery was still sort of in the range of normality, things have gotten much, much more complicated.

After I updated that post on Sunday night, Brantley’s lawyer — Huntley Johnson, naturally — responded to the charge and to the lawyer for Brantley’s alleged victim releasing a charged statement by shooting off a statement of his own, asserting that Brantley, in fact, is the victim.

Then, on Monday, Johnson’s law firm released a more detailed account of the night of April 13, one that it premises on Brantley’s alleged victim “punch(ing) him in the mouth” and him responding by “put(ting) out his right arm” to defend himself, inadvertently making contact with her face with his hand.

On Tuesday, we got two more developments: Tampa Bay Times reporter Matt Baker — who has been all over this case — obtained video purporting to show Brantley’s victim walking away from Gainesville’s Midtown strip of bars and restaurants shortly after her attorney claimed she was rendered unconscious by Brantley, and Johnson told Baker that the alleged victim’s attorneys approached him on Monday and Tuesday in an attempt to settle the case, which Brantley has refused to do.

This week’s events, taken as a whole and in conjunction with what I strongly believe are tweets from the alleged victim, included in our original report, make it hard for me to shake the sense that this push from the alleged victim is an attempt to extract revenge and/or some measure of gain from Brantley, a man on the eve of a likely million-dollar payday from the NFL.

Certainly, that’s the picture that Johnson — a master of the ends of the public relations part of lawyering for prominent clients, even if I sometimes find his means lacking — is painting. And he, to my eye, is doing that work much more artfully than the victim’s lawyer, whose statement from Sunday suggesting in part that the original Gainesville Police Department report was a fabrication seemed like a remarkably terrible idea.

But I also think that it’s likely that both Brantley and his alleged victim, to degrees that may not be equal, did things they probably should not have done on the night of April 13. Both that original GPD report and the sworn complaint suggest that both people had physical contact with each other, and multiple witnesses at the scene apparently told at least one officer that Brantley’s alleged victim hit him; Brantley’s own lawyer has conceded the point that he made physical contact with her, quibbling mostly over the nature of that contact.

And while there are some justifications for using force to respond to force — some of which might be relevant to whatever Brantley actually did — it is generally a bad idea, as it almost always has been in civilized society, to put your hands on someone else without permission.

I hate this story. I hate it because I genuinely dislike writing up stories of crimes and alleged crimes and throwing them in our Florida Gators Police Blotter group, because I find its proximity to the NFL Draft vexing on a lot of levels, because I had to hear from both someone who apparently thinks self-defense is worthy of CAPITAL LETTERS and someone who thinks I started a “tweet chain” “that it is OK to strike a woman unconscious” ... because I advocated being boring, I think? None of that is fun.

But Brantley’s a public figure, and this is news related to Florida, and so I should probably have kept covering it as the story developed. Mea culpa for that.

Want a story that dropped off the radar as soon as it appeared? How about the brouhaha over Florida softball coach Tim Walton having a run-in with Auburn’s Haley Fagan back in March?

Less than 12 hours after that happened, Walton had apologized — and that was basically that. Fagan didn’t issue any statement of her own, and I considered any more coming on that matter unlikely.

Except: Things did happen, albeit small and quiet things.

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs told a Birmingham radio station on that same day after that Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin had met with Walton, and that Stricklin had called him to discuss the matter. Florida’s team shook hands with its next foe during postgame festivities, though whether that is a true change in policy is unclear. Auburn did not discipline Fagan.

And earlier this week, and maybe most importantly, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told a regional meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors on Monday that an incident like that “shouldn’t happen.”

Sankey declined to say whether the league considered any discipine, also saying that the athletic departments issued statements — it’s unclear whether Jacobs’s comments on the radio sufficed as Auburn’s statement; the school did not apparently issue any other statement — and that “we’ll move forward.”

So: After of a moment of pique caught and not well-explained on national television, we got ... some comments, a one-sided apology, and an apparently procedural change that may or may not be real.

What a world.

That same world, of course, has devoted much time, space, and thought to the professional baseball career of a man turning 30 in August who is just now eclipsing a .215 average.

And that’s fair, because Tim Tebow’s baseball career, to be clear, is a sideshow that was always bound to draw attention. Tebow was a generational college quarterback, the rare sort good enough to be dominant for three years and not quite good enough to make an early jump to the NFL, and became both a cultural sensation for a variety of reasons and a cult figure to many because of his faith and his fans’ faith in him. I don’t blame the Columbia Fireflies for milking that by tweeting about Tebow as much as possible, or for reporters and journalists continuing to tell Tebow’s story because they know other people are interested in Tebow’s story.

But, frankly, I’m not sure Tebow’s story is, at this chapter, interesting to me.

He is, by any objective measure, no better than a mediocre baseball player even at his low level of baseball. Tebow went 3-for-4 with a rumbling triple earlier on Wednesday, boosting his batting average all the way to .246 for the season — and he is now just 58th in the low-A South Atlantic League in the stat. His nine RBI are close to the top 25 in the league, and his slugging percentage (.415) and OPS (.725) are right around the top 50, but those latter two stats are far from exceptional marks.

To put them in perspective, Oakland Athletics third baseman Trevor Plouffe is slugging .415, and barely in the top 100 in that statistic; his OPS would be 0.002 behind Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria’s in 2017, and 0.001 behind St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter’s ... and those marks would be very near career-worsts for those two players.

And that’s all at a level of baseball four tiers higher than Tebow’s.

Tebow is also a work in progress as a fielder, and is clearly no cosmic force for winning in the clubhouse, as the Fireflies are 12-9, third in the South Atlantic’s South Division. His hitting, unless it improves dramatically, will not get him promoted. And if he’s not going to suddenly turn into a great pitcher, his fate is written: Tebow will play minor-league ball at levels where he cannot block other New York Mets prospects from developing for as long as he wants to.

One of the primary causes of attrition for players dead-ending at that level, after all, is not a team telling those players to pack their bags, but those players getting tired of the destitute, itinerant life of the minor-leaguer without a path to the riches of the higher professional ranks, and cutting their losses on major-league dreams. And Tebow, who has welcomed hardship and adversity to his life so long as it is not pursuing a football career at a position other than quarterback, is seemingly just fine with plugging away as a minor-leaguer in the spring and summer, then returning to making orders of magnitude more money than his teammates for a few months of work at ESPN in the fall — something even a job-slashing ESPN won’t mind, either, because people care about Tim Tebow.

So Tebow will continue being an object lesson for retraining athletes or a Quixotic figure who, ironically, inspires much tilting at windmills, and maybe I’ll write about him again in the same vein as I last did if and when he hits his fourth home run, and eclipses the mark set by the other great baseball dilettante of our modern times.

But I’m not going to care all that much about this part of Tebow’s story. These chapters are written, the ink set to be pressed to the page, no editor’s pen needed for alterations.

Where’s the drama?

Maybe we’ll see more yet — but not for months or years down the road.