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Editorial: MU needs to crack down on athletes’ reckless behavior

Aug. 31, 2012

Editorials represent the majority opinion of The Maneater editorial board.

The MU Athletic Department might not be fed up with some of its athletes’ conduct yet, but it should be.

In the last two years, MU athletes have had their fair share of run-ins with the law. Running back Derrick Washington was convicted of sexual assault, quarterback Corbin Berkstresser was arrested on hit-and-run charges, defensive specialist Sarah Meister received a DUI just last week and now freshman quarterback Maty Mauk has been arrested on a number of charges related to a scooter incident.

Washington was the only student incident that was handled correctly. The Athletic Department did everything it could in that situation (removing Washington from the team), and it seemed like it would continue that practice. Athletics confronted the problem, analyzed the situation and dealt with it accordingly. It seemed like Washington would be the tipping point for the department when dealing with athlete misconduct.

Unfortunately, since Washington’s crime, the department has gone back to ignoring athletes’ delinquency. It has repeatedly swept these incidents under the rug and refused to deal with them. MU’s reputation can’t afford to backtrack.

These athletes are students, and it’s somewhat expected that mistakes will happen. That doesn’t mean those mistakes should be ignored, especially in situations when prominent athletes, who are marketed as the faces of MU, are making mistakes that put others in danger. Regardless of what happens at other universities, MU should be holding itself to a higher standard.

Most athletes are at MU on scholarships. While they aren’t the only prominent students who receive funding from MU, they are the only students who have that privilege without also being held to a higher standard. If a student employed by MU received a DUI, there would be consequences. Any other student leader would face serious consequences for criminal charges.

Residential Life peer advisers, for instance, can be fired just for being in the presence of alcohol. PAs are held to that standard because they’re expected to be positive role models for students. But who is it that students have posters of on their walls? Athletes. MU athletes who are getting arrested with few to no repercussions.

Last week, Meister received a DUI. The Athletic Department didn’t issue a statement or news release about the incident. On the week following Meister’s weekend arrest, a Maneater reporter was told Meister was absent at practice because of class. Soon after, a public police document revealed the arrest and a statement was requested.

That was four days after the morning of Aug. 18, the day of the arrest. There’s no indication that the department had any plans of alerting the public that Meister had been driving drunk on campus off of Rollins Road.

Not only is that irresponsible but it also forces the community to wonder how many times incidents like this have gone completely unnoticed.

It’s typical of a department to protect its students, and it should. But the Athletic Department tried to cover up and lie about this incident. The prominence of these players almost guarantees attention, and it’s naïve to think cover-ups like this will succeed. Athletics, having behaved reactively, is hurting its own reputation by not proactively dealing with situations like this.

Once her misconduct was revealed, the department said they would handle it internally. Instead, she was back on the court after a one-game suspension.

When Gary Pinkel was arrested on DWI charges, he was adequately punished. Shouldn't Meister, who's underage, be issued at least some repercussions? The department's lack of concern sends the message that punishments rely on the incident's prominence, not the crime itself.

Recent actions indicate Meister’s athletic skills are more important than her personal conduct. They indicate athletics doesn't care that Meister put people in danger when she got behind the wheel. They indicate MU cares more about winning a game than keeping students safe.

This cannot continue.

Athletics needs to deal with athlete misconduct openly and fairly. Hit-and-runs and DUIs aren’t petty crimes and they shouldn’t be treated as such. Instead of trying to hide these issues, deal with them and prove to students that athletes aren’t given special privileges when it comes to life-threatening conduct.

Athletes will now know that a DUI only warrants a one-game suspension. Repercussions for dangerous acts should act as deterrents, but these small punishments only tell athletes that if they can play, they can act out off the field.

Having irresponsible athletes will weigh on MU’s reputation. At some point, a bad reputation will pull athletics down, no matter how impressive its excellence on the field might be.

In Mauk, the Athletics Department has an opportunity to begin treating an athlete like any other student. By issuing a just punishment, it can show it cares about the danger its athletes are putting other students in.

It’s time athletics’ actions started lining up with its rhetoric. Athletic Director Mike Alden’s mission statement reads, “Preparing Champions for Life through Academic Integrity, Social Responsibility and Competitive Excellence.” Social responsibility? If Alden, or anyone in the Athletic Department, expects students to take that statement seriously, they have to change. Hopefully it’s not too late.

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