BY Art Thiel 10:17PM 03/08/2011

Romar’s tough year gets tougher

Overton deserves firing, but throwing him out doesn’t help, proves nothing

Washington Huskies guard Venoy Overton has had a turbulent season / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest file

Don James once said there was the court of law, and there was “my court.”

His team. His rules. His investigation. His judgment.

That is the way to run a big-time college sports program. Clear, swift, unmistakable.

Unless, of course, a mistake is made.

The Huskies football coach once kicked off two players during a bowl trip for involvement in a fight at a bar in a restaurant. The players claimed they were innocent victims of a racially inspired confrontation by employees.

No matter, James told them. Wrong place at the wrong time. Besides, they had broken team rules previously.

Some time later, the restaurant chain, as part of a court-ordered settlement of a class-action civil rights case, took out full-page ads in area newspapers to apologize to anyone mistreated by the chain’s racially discriminatory policies and actions.

But there was no rewind button for the players’ bowl game, college careers or reputations. The news of the ads was a big deal in Los Angeles, barely noted in Seattle.

That long-ago episode came to mind Tuesday when coach Lorenzo Romar waited until the eve of the Pac-10 basketball tournament to take action on a bad episode he knew all about within 24 hours of its Jan. 8 occurrence.

I don’t have specific knowledge of what information was exchanged between Romar and Venoy Overton. But I have general knowledge of what is exchanged between a good coach and a miscreant player.

The truth.

For most kids in the big-time jock culture, the worst decision possible is to lie to Coach. It’s easier to lie to parents, girlfriends, cops and judges than it is to the man who holds their sports future in his hands.

For most coaches in the big-time jock culture, the worst decision possible is to give in to impulse. The need for control, order, reputation and success is overwhelming, and the urge is to regain all swiftly, by any means.

But Romar, Overton, the team and Huskies fans had to wait two months for resolution while the distraction helped jeopardize a season rich in possibility.

Just as no one can quantify the damage done to the girls involved in the sexual encounter with Overton, no one can quantify the damage done to the Huskies’ season by having to silently tiptoe around his foolishness.

But it is safe to say that a misdemeanor charge of buying alcohol for a minor hardly begins to describe the consequences.

Yet there was no way around the handling of this extraordinary predicament – knowledge that a bad thing had been done to underage girls by a team member, yet being unable to remove aspersions from the innocent, much less take action until the allegation of criminal activity was validated or dismissed.

All were left to swing in the wind.

Romar and the university had to wait until now, even though it was widely understood around campus and town that the perp was Overton, news that was tweeted up and down the West Coast, making him the target of teasing and taunts, some vicious, at every road stop.

Suspending Overton for the tourney after a charge was filed, was the right thing to do, regardless of competitive consequences. A good argument can be made that Overton, a senior, deserves to be fired now, including any subsequent postseason tourney. But in a somber press conference Tuesday, Romar suggested other action has been taken.

“There have been some internal dealings with Venoy that I won’t go into, because it’s family stuff,” he said. “But I did not want to outwardly discipline twice.”

There is a law against double jeopardy, but the legal issue is down to a misdemeanor. This is a team-rules and image issue. The fact that the allegations of forced sex failed to rise to a prosecutable case doesn’t mean a bad thing didn’t happen, and Romar’s program has taken a hit that keeps on hurting into a third month. As soon as Washington is done with the season, Romar would do the program a favor by explaining, in a situation that no longer has many secrets, what has gone down.

On the other hand, throwing away Overton now just to prove Romar is a disciplinarian isn’t likely to repair a team image, nor help Overton. The damage has been done; a salvage operation has to be undertaken.

Overton messed up big time, causing problems for many and grief for some. Basketball is secondary to what needs to be done to repair some lives and reputations.

“This has been the toughest year since I’ve been a coach here, for me,” Romar said. His elaboration included the injury losses of Tyreese Breshers and Abdul Gaddy, but the burden unmentioned was managing Overton, as well as the reactions to him by teammates and the public.

It will continue for what remains of the season. Regarding a discipline issue, it’s about as uncontrollable a situation as a coach can have; this isn’t Klay Thompson getting caught with some pot in his car and serving a one-game suspension that’s easily forgotten by media and most Washington State fans.

Discussion about this odd, rare circumstance will follow Washington to Los Angeles, and presuming some grace/desperation on the part of the selection committee, into the NCAA tourney.

Romar’s season is about to get tougher, yet his Christian conscience would never forgive him for throwing away Overton now.

The only real win for Washington from here on is to endure with a little dignity while avoiding further damage. That means keeping Overton close, instead of on the street.

More Huskies basketball on SPNW

Depth becomes Washington’s biggest concern

Overton charged; out for Pac-10 tournament

Pac-10 tournament a tossup at tipoff


YourThoughts

  • Ian

    One of Art’s better articles. Great insight into the weight this incident has likely has on the team this year.

  • Darren

    I think Romar would agree with the last two sentences, however the ‘team’ may perform better if they know he is gone for good.

  • Lucky Infidel

    I don’t think the punishment fits the “crime” at all and clearly Overton–referred to by almost laughable term “perp,” given the context of the actual crime charged–does not deserve to be “fired” Providing alcohol to obviously very willing “minors” should hardly have career-threatening consequences. Overton is not that much older than the “victims.” As for the alleged sexual assault, all we have is the word of a minor or minors who we do know chose to illegally ingest a mind-altering substance and were under the influence of such. Perhaps things did get out of hand. That still does not make it a crime or, God-forbid, a true sexual assault. We are way too quick to pile on in this country in this day in age. Maybe it soothes our own demons or boosts our self-esteem or maybe it is just plain what it is–sick.

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    • oldE5vet

      As a 75yr old Udub dopesmoking male grad, I fail to understand the ‘so what’ attitude about this situation. I don’t even have a daughter but I’m outraged that the University doesn’t take this behavior seriously. “Gee, he’s only charged with a misdemeanor. Gee it only involves supplying alcohol to a minor”! Where’s the Chancellor’s voice in this? What if the ‘non-perp’ in this was a rookie cop or a seminary student involved with a male juvenile. Everybody would be all over this like stink on … well you get the idea. I personally think every woman and woman’s group should withhold financial support to the UofW until some real action is taken in this matter. I’m probably not a real University basketball supporter.

  • Gordon Hansen

    Art,

    I agree in what you wrote on the Overton ordeal, and on what other people have written on the subject this morning. What I do not agree with is the definition of “suspension”. If Overton is going to practice with the team, if tax dollars are going to pay for him traveling with the team to LA, that is NOT a suspension. He should be left home to contemplate his actions and finish his school work (yeah, right).

  • Dennis G. Emery

    Gordan Hansen, Your comment about tax dollars is not true. The UW athletic department is totally self-sufficient. No tax dollars are used for any athletic endeavor. None! I thought this was common Knowledge. On the other hand, I don’t think this is true about wsu. I may be wrong but i think a small amount of money for athletics come out of the wsu general fund.

    • http://bayviews.blogspot.com Herb Huseland

      If he, a 22 year old had sex with two 16 year olds, that is stautory rape, whether alcohol was involved or not.

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  • http://seattlealaskasports.blogspot.com/ Soggyblogger

    @oldE5vet: Your analogy doesn’t really fit. And your use of the word “juvenile” in this case is also inaccurate from a legal standpoint. So if VO had sex with two females who had a legal right to make their own decisions as to when and with whom they will have sex, then who are you or I to say VO is wrong to participate in sex with willing partners?

    Perhaps such behavior is against team rules, and therefore a penalty might be expected. I do not know. That just covers the sex aspect, and actually it is impossible to separate the sex from the illegal act of supplying alcohol to a minor. That actually brings up a gray area since supplying alcohol to minors is illegal, and once the minor has consumed the alcohol is the choice to have sex untainted by that alcohol? Which is one reason having different age requirements for two different behaviors which get mixed up together is problematical. Only a court of law could answer the questions and even that would only reflect the current social attitude towards each behavior.

    I am not defending VO’s behavior, but contrary to what Herb said, no laws were broken with VO’s sexual behavior. The law used to be 18 years old. Some might prefer 21. Personally, I would make 18 the legal age to drink and to have sex. Then these gray areas would not exist. Though a few 18 year olds would be charged with rape who had sex with willing 17 year olds and would have their lives ruined by a strict enforcement of a law attempting to harness the sexual drives of some pretty horny young folks.

    The current age limit of 16 years old recognizes that society has changed and young adults have sex earlier than in the past. For one thing, puberty begins earlier today than just 50 years ago. Some think it is the hormones found in our food supply, but earlier puberty results in earlier sex. So the laws changed to reflect both the physical changes and the moral changes.