Monday, May 17, 2010

Starsia, UVA and The Washington Post; Kudos to those who ran The Gaithersburg Book Festival

The stories this weekend about the University of Virginia’s victories in the NCAA lacrosse tournaments—men’s and women’s—were all touching and entirely believable. The grief still being felt by those involved with the two teams and at the school is clearly genuine and, especially when watching the women, one can’t help but feel sick about what happened to Yeardley Love.

That said, there was a story this past weekend in The Charlottesville Daily Progress that is disturbing. It has nothing to do with any of the kids currently playing on either team. It’s about, really, the behavior of the administration at Virginia.

As I said before, I have mixed emotions about the men’s team playing in the NCAA Tournament but I’m willing to buy into the idea that the other players on the team, even if they did know that George Huguely was an absolute jerk, had no way of knowing he was capable of doing what he did. We all knew bullies who drank too much when we were in college (and since college) but we didn’t think, ‘that guy is going to kill someone.’ We just thought he was someone worth steering clear of, especially when he was drinking.

According to The Daily Progress (Note: article found here), Virginia has issued a report in which it says that Coach Dom Starsia did nothing wrong in handling a situation that occurred in 2009 when Huguely slugged a sleeping teammate for committing the crime of kissing Love—apparently a chaste between-friends kiss, but enough to set Huguely off.

This story was initially reported by The Washington Post. Everyone knows I am a contributor to The Post and have been associated with the paper for more than 30 years. So, if you want, call me biased. I don’t think that’s the case. UVA at first demanded a correction of The Post story, saying it implied that Starsia somehow ‘covered-up,’ the incident when he didn’t. When outgoing UVA President John Casteen (who no doubt wishes he retired a year ago) was asked about the story a week ago, he called it, ‘hearsay.’

Apparently not. According to the UVA report, Huguely and the un-named teammate went to see Starsia after the incident. They said there’d been a scuffle but everything was okay. Starsia—still according to the report—asked the kid who had gotten slugged to stay after Huguely had left and asked him what had really happened. The kid told Starsia there was nothing more to tell and Starsia let it go.

Okay, I’m not here to say Starsia failing to pursue it was a firing offense or the tragedy would have been avoided if he had pursued it. Let’s be clear on that.

But let’s go back a minute and be Starsia. Two kids walk in, one of them sporting a shiner. They tell you they scuffled. It is pretty clear one kid is a lot worse off post-scuffle than the other. They HAD to come and talk to you because you’re going to notice the injury at practice so let’s not give them any brownie points for, ‘coming forward.’

Starsia asked the kid who is injured to tell him what happened—alone. Did he do this because he thought the kid was intimidated by Huguely’s presence? Did he, after three years of coaching Huguely have a sense that Huguely had a violent streak in him? He sensed SOMETHING but didn’t pursue it.

What SHOULD he have done? There’s one thing athletes respond to: the threat of lost playing time. “Look, I’m not going to necessarily do anything but I want to know what happened. If you want to play this weekend, tell me.”

If the kid refuses, bench both players until they tell you the truth. In the meantime, maybe you check and see if Huguely has been in trouble you didn’t know about before? Maybe you ask the UVA police to run a check to see if he’s had any problems with the police before? (Which would have turned up the incident in Lexington that no one at Virginia knew about before Love’s murder.)

Is all of this a second-guess? Yes. But it isn’t as if Starsia had never had kids in trouble before. It isn’t as if SOMETHING in his gut didn’t tell him there was more to the incident than they were telling him. But he didn’t pursue it. Can we at least agree that was a mistake? Again, no one is saying it was a life-and-death decision.

That said, it takes a lot of nerve on the part of UVA’s officials to demand a correction from The Post. The story is right: the incident took place and Starsia didn’t pursue it. That’s the crux of it and the important part of it. Virginia should apologize to The Post and should probably NOT be going around on a high horse about this.

Starsia is walking a very fine line when he claims on the one hand that he didn’t talk to his team about the incident but seems to remember talking to them about not fighting and the importance of, ‘being a family.’ There’s also the Virginia spokeswoman who says if Starsia HAD known the specifics of the incident he would have handled it in an “entirely different way.” Well, whose fault is it that Starsia didn’t know the specifics. He just took the two players at their word—even though he was clearly concerned something untoward had taken place—and never tried to pursue the truth.

There’s a big gap between making a mistake you wish you could correct and criminal negligence. Being innocent of criminal negligence doesn’t mean you handled a situation correctly. The people at Virginia need to understand something: THEY aren’t the victims in this any more than they are the perpetrators. Yeardley Love was the victim. Her family and friends were the victims. Dom Starsia sure as hell wasn’t the victim. The people he’s working for need to understand that.

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I wanted to throw some kudos today in the direction of the people who ran The Gaithersburg Book Festival on Saturday. I am always leery of book festivals and book fairs, in part because there is no guarantee anyone will show up, in part because they often are very poorly organized.

This one—first time out of the box—was run with precision timing; lots of volunteers who knew what they were doing and good crowds—helped no doubt by a perfect weather day. The audience I spoke to had plenty of people and enthusiasm, which was terrific.

It was a little different than my first book fair experience—which was in Miami in 1988. When I showed up I was directed to, “The Children’s Alley.” The guy said, “yeah, sports book, we put you there.”

So, I sat down to do a book signing with six other authors alongside—each having written a book on about the same level as, “Good Night Moon.” Along came various moms and their four-year-olds, none especially interested in a book about college basketball. Thirty minutes went by; I had signed zero books.

Finally—FINALLY—a guy came up and said, “Hey, are you John Feinstein?” Thank God, I thought, at least I’ll sell one book. Maybe I can get this guy to stand here and talk to me for the next 20 minutes.

“Yes, I am,” I said gratefully.

He looked at his program then looked at me. “So you’re the Miami Heat mascot?”

“WHAT?”

“Right here in the program, it says, ‘4 o’clock—John Feinstein, Miami Heat Mascot.’”

He showed me the program. That’s exactly what it said. Apparently I was speaking at the same time the Miami Heat mascot was performing. But the program made it look like I WAS the Miami Heat mascot.

“Sorry,” I said. “I’m not the Miami Heat mascot.”

“Too bad,” he said—and left.

Never did sell a book that day.

Saturday was a LOT better. Not a mascot in sight.

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John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases

To listen to 'The Bob and Tom Show' interview about  'Moment of Glory', please click the play button below:

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

John,
Don't let this go to your head but they conducted a poll on the Tony Kornheiser web site, thisshowstinks.com and they listed Tony's 4 most popular guest and asked readers to pick their favorite, you got over half the votes (52%) compared to 48% for all others combined. Kudos, I couldn't agree more!

Paul said...

John, thank you for lending your support for the Gaithersburg Book Fair and being such a terrific speaker. Your early support for the Fair helped gets lots of other quality authors on board and contributed to a great program (even beyond your presentation).

Glad we were able to draw a crowd for you and hopefully help sell some books. (and sorry again for the three CSX trains that had the nerve to pass by during your hour!)

Paul
(your tent manager from the book fair)

236 Hokie said...

JF: "What SHOULD he have done? There’s one thing athletes respond to: the threat of lost playing time. “Look, ... If you want to play this weekend, tell me.”
"If the kid refuses, bench both players until they tell you the truth. "

Seems more likely the kid repeats the lie and the coach is left hanging. As you point out, they had to come forward to give a story for the shiner. If he got the story of a couple punches thrown after some beers, I'm not sure that sounds suspicious or all that big a deal. It seems like among the hundreds of things a coach has to think about this is pretty far down on the totem pole. He's probably got the antennae out for team discord during practice, but thinking more about the extra call to the recruit at Landon then a call to the Campus police.

Mr. X said...

Watched the beginning of the UVA women's game on Sunday and ended up sticking with it. I learned a few things.

That UVA player has a darned fine voice for the national anthem. Women's LAX is far closer to the original sport than Men's LAX (different equipment, playing periods). This has something to do with allowing men to control the ball better in a more physical/violent game? Not a lot of defense in the women's game.

tom said...

Thanks for coming to the Gaithersburg Festival, had I known you were still looking to sign a copy of a basketball book, I would have brought my copy of "The Punch", your fantastic book about Kermit Washington. It was great to read that story, which I have been lucky to share that with other baskeball fans. Cheers, and I hope you return to Gaithersburg again soon. Tom M