Editorial: KU may have been more football-minded than high-minded in punishing Pooka

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

It is still early, but you already can start to hear the Rock Chalk chant rise for the football season now that star running back Pooka Williams has been reinstated to the team.

If you remember, Williams had been suspended for seven months while a criminal case alleging that he grabbed the throat of and punched a woman with whom he was romantically involved was resolved. Williams took a diversion in the case to keep it off his criminal record, so the matter never went to trial. A police affidavit, though, says the woman had bruises on her body and that text messages from Williams on her phone corroborated some of the details.

With the legal matter concluded, Williams has rejoined the team. But he must sit out the first game against Indiana State, a team so lightly regarded and from a smaller division that KU likely will be favored to win the game even without Williams. It is the closest thing college football has to an exhibition game.

Missing that game doesn’t seem like much of a punishment.

Some would point to the fact that Williams did miss seven months of being on the team. True, though all seven months were during a time when the team wasn’t playing games. Is missing the joy of a hard, physical football practice a punishment? Maybe if you are an elite athlete it is, but there are skeptics among us on that point.

Others may point out that, according to KU Athletics, Williams is “subject to probation” until he graduates. Yes, but probation isn’t a punishment as much as it is a threat of future punishment. Williams also must attend monthly meetings with a university conduct officer and complete a sexual violence accountability course. Those are not punishments. They’re blessings. Williams should be thankful he is in a place that has people to help him.

He also will be required to complete 40 hours of community service. Perhaps some consider community service a punishment, but hopefully that is not the prevailing view — for the sake of communities.

No, in many ways, the only punishment here is the one-game suspension. Missing one game is about the equivalent of what would happen if Williams twisted his ankle leading up to a game. A good hamstring pull might keep him out more than this.

To be clear, Williams shouldn’t have his life ruined by this incident, nor should he have his football career ruined by it. If you think otherwise, the entity you really ought to be mad at is the Douglas County district attorney for granting him a diversion. Unfortunately, Williams’ case was pretty run of the mill. Many get diversions for what he was accused of.

But at one point in time, universities used to be places that strove to have standards higher than the norm. They were institutions that sought to be high-minded. Now, many appear to be more football-minded. That is probably the clearest point in all this: KU is almost certainly a vastly better football team with Williams than without him.

The Rock Chalk chant likely wouldn’t be as loud if Williams missed many more games. But it would have been the right course of action. A suspension somewhere closer to half the season would have been appropriate. Williams would still get to play and benefit from the activity he loves, but the loss of the games likely would have disqualified him for many of the individual awards — like leading rusher or all-league — that he otherwise is a favorite to win. It would have been a more fitting punishment and might have put him in a better mindset for his junior and senior seasons.

But it is a moot point now. The Rock Chalk chant will happen much sooner this way, and it will be loud when Williams does something great on the field. But to some, it will sound different.

Tone deaf may be the best way to describe it.


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