BY Art Thiel 03:52PM 07/15/2013

Thiel: Huskies need to suspend ASJ for 2 games

Washington star tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins pleaded guilty Monday to felony DUI and will serve a day in jail. Now it’s Steve Sarkisian’s turn to make a statement.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who played hoops for Washington his freshman year, pleaded guilty Monday to felony DUI. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Austin Seferian-Jenkins pleaded guilty Monday to a felony gross misdemeanor DUI charge, owes $7,585 in fines, will spend a mandatory minimum one day in jail and be on probation five years. Washington’s premier tight end has been suspended from team activities since shortly after March 9, when he drove his car into a Seattle ditch and smashed his face into the windshield. Isn’t that enough?

No. He needs to sit out two games.

We all know that the college football landscape is changing at warp speed, thanks to money from TV that is sufficient to make independent states out of big-time programs. Changing nearly as fast is the public attitude toward DUI, especially in this town, where DUI-related vehicular homicides following Seferian-Jenkins’ episode took three lives and injured four others.

The trends have intersected at the desk of head coach Steve Sarkisian. He has a chance to make a statement that suggests that college football is still tethered to reality.

Public opinion will be all over the map. Some Huskies fans, lathered about the season and the remodeled stadium, want the season to be a step up, and Seferian-Jenkins, 20, is among a handful of UW’s difference-makers. At the other end are crusaders against drunk driving who may think that the loss of a full season for DUI is the only statement powerful enough to be a high-profile deterrent.

In the middle is Seferian-Jenkins, who did a stupid thing and was lucky to have not been injured seriously, or to have harmed others. Predictably, he seems mortified and contrite. He changed his plea in Seattle Municipal Court Monday morning from not guilty to guilty and had a statement issued through his attorney, Bill Kirk:

“On March 9, 2013, I fell well short of what is expected of me as a student athlete and a citizen of this community,” the statement read. “I want everyone to know how sorry I am for the disappointment and embarrassment that I have caused. I especially want to apologize to my teammates, my coaches and particularly my family. I also want to apologize to the entire University of Washington family for not living up to my expectations. I hope that everyone can learn from my mistake so that they do not commit the same lapse in judgment that I committed this past March.

“I was always raised to be a man of my word, and I promised everyone shortly after this incident that I would accept responsibility for my actions. Today, I kept my word and will accept my punishment because I deserve it. I also want everyone to know that I will continue to learn from this mistake and will attempt to educate others to the dangers of drinking and driving.

“I understand that I am very fortunate that no one else was injured by my terrible lapse in judgment. To all my supporters, thank you for standing by me, but please learn from my mistake and never, ever drink and drive. I plan to move on from this, and continue to work hard to earn your respect back. Again, I am deeply sorry for my actions and I hope that at some point, you can all forgive me.”

A well-crafted expression, and I have no reason to doubt Seferian-Jenkins’ sincerity. But forgiveness is a decision for each individual. Public safety, meanwhile, is in increasing jeopardy, despite all the awareness, counseling, hectoring and tragedies involving impaired driving.

The Seattle City’s Attorney’s office, which handles misdemeanors, filed 1,498 DUI cases in 2012. The year before, there were 1,207. Clearly the message isn’t getting across. Gov. Jay Inslee has introduced a bill in the Legislature to toughen DUI laws.

The increase is burdensome in Seattle, which has only 30 probation officers to deal with all probation cases, not just DUI. The officers are charged with following up with court orders on conditions such as ignition interlock devices that prevent drinkers from driving. But the numbers overwhelm the staffers, and people get away.

“We’ve got the laws,” Eric Michl, a member of Seattle Police’s DUO squad, told seattlepi.com. “We just need the resources to enforce them.”

But the city has only 30 probation officers, and they handle much more than just DUI cases.

“I think they’re a great group of people doing the best they can with limited resources,” Michl said. “We need more resources.”

They need more resources — and they need smaller caseloads. That’s where Sarkisian can do his part. He has the discretion, subject to approval of athletic director Scott Woodward, to influence directly the 100-plus athletes in his charge, and by extension the thousands who pay attention to their activities, by sitting his star for two games instead of the expected one.

Sarkisian already has at least one Husky who didn’t seem to get the original message from Seferian-Jenkins’ screw-up. Teammate Kasen Williams was arrested and cited for underage drinking at Lake Chelan in May after driving 45 mph in a 30 mph zone.

There was a time when Williams’ misdemeanor would have been shrugged off as a boys-will-be-boys episode of youthful indescretion. That time has passed.

Too many cars, too much recklessness, too much death.


YourThoughts

  • Jon

    Art- are you sure it was a felony DUI? Seattle muni court does not have jurisdiction over felony matters, so I was shocked when I saw you reported it as a felony DUI. Please
    Confirm and if inaccurate you should retract your article and opinion as the foundation of your view point was false and cannot be revised with credibility after the fact withou he appearence of latent bias, regardless of any soundness of your policy arguments? If I am in error you can ignore this comment.

    • art thiel

      The charge against Seferian-Jenkins was a gross misdemeanor, not a felony as written. It is corrected. That was my error. I apologize.

      Regarding the column, the opinion about the degree of sanction is not based on the legal charge and outcome, but the university’s decision about its own subsequent actions, if any.

      Regardless of the charge’s degree, there is no apparent dispute about the facts of the case. What happened, happened. My column was about my view of the deed in the context of growing public intolerance for DUI in the city and state. The two horrific DUI fatalities in Seattle after Seferian-Jenkins’ accident underscored the discontent that is translating into tougher laws requested by the governor, which is drawing rare bipartisan support in Olympia.

      Sarkisian and the university are under no legal obligation to extend Seferian-Jenkins’ school punishment. Popular speculation is that UW will invoke a one-game suspension, but no indications have been given.

      Under former coach Rick Neuheisel, TE Jerramy Stevens was given a half-game suspension for the 2001 opener after pleading guilty to a hit-and-run accident in which the truck he was driving hit another car, then smashed into the side of a retirement home. No injuries were reported.

      Other big-time programs have given zero additional punishment up to two games (Charlie Weis at Kansas). My view is that Sarkisian has an opportunity — not an obligation — to tell his players, and the community, how seriously the program takes a DUI, with a two-game suspension.

      • Craig H. – Bellevue

        Well said, Art !

        • Marksass

          I say make it three games…..make a statement here….you drink, you get hammered, you drive….this is what happens at UW….a higher standard, academics, athletics, make it known, UW demands a higher standard including personal behavior….only the best study here, play here, and UW must have the best (highest) expectations…..

  • Brett

    It’s not Sarkisian’s job to use his football team to send a message about Seattle’s drunk driving problem. His motivation should solely be about what is best for the 85 young men under his charge. Anything longer than a one game suspension would be too harsh, considering the punishment ASJ has already gone through.

    • art thiel

      Never said it was his job. It is an opportunity.

  • Howard Wells

    only a two game suspension?! My gosh, you wrote ” DUI-related vehicular homicides following Seferian-Jenkins’ episode took three lives and injured four others.: “. If he is responsible for those deaths and injuries, why are you letting him
    off so easy?!

    • Howard Wells

      I know what you meant Art. Are you driving with a cast on your leg? or using pain meds while writing your column or making financial decisions about your family?

      • art thiel

        Actually, no to all. But thanks for caring. I’m certain you have the same concern for the victims of DUI accidents and reduction of future victims, which was the point here.

        • Howard Wells

          yes sir! I stopped drinking when I had to drive home from drinking after work in 2010. By good fortune or luck a speed trap cop near the zoo on Aurora gave me a speeding ticket instead of a DUI. That was a successfully learned lesson! I enjoy your work. I agree that a 2 game suspension would be effective. However, more effective still would be the first home game and the first road game.

          • Craig H. – Bellevue

            Howie Boy – let me get this straight, cowboy: ‘….I HAD to drive home from drinking after work in 2010.’ You didn’t HAVE to do anything but call a CAB, or get another knuckle-dragger friend of your’s, to get you home safely, and to protect the rest of us in the community. And you couldn’t even negotiate that simple thing properly? Why….DO TELL!!

            And YOU are trying to lecture Art here with your bogus and specious word clap-trap? See my photo at left, A$$hat? You’re lower on the food chain as far as evolution goes than even me & the rest of my cave dwellin’ family in Bellevue – congrats for setting the Human Genome Race back another millenia!!

            Now….get LOST – k? I don’t care if its up on Aurora Ave. again – what?..you can’t find hookers and drug connections closer to your single-wide down in ‘claw off Pacific Hiway South?? Thx. – for ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

            lmao, extant.

          • Craig H. – Bellevue

            PS. Art – can you possibly tell that the late, great Sam Kinnison & Geo. Carlin are my patron saints of probity and comedy and comity? And of course, you and Jim Murray, and the GO2GUY.

            Peace out.

    • art thiel

      I assume you’re not serious.

  • Will

    I’m not a crusader nor do I have a personal grudge against ASJ … but … if, as you suggest, the athletic program needs to send a message, why not toss him off the team? The symbolic suspension of one or two games is superficial. Being fired is more than a gesture, it’s real and how the world outside of sports works.

  • Plausitive Vibrations

    Just for the record, that was no “ditch” he drove into. It was a “bio-swale,” constructed by SDOT two years ago when they allegedly “improved” the intersection (known locally as the “crazy scramble”). Most of us are pretty sure the trough was supposed to be a third bike lane. The intersection itself is hard enough to negotiate at high noon when cold sober, but in the middle of the night on a 0.18 bender? Buahah!

    Okay, so “bio-swale” is, in fact, SDOT lingo for “ditch with plants in it.” But as far as I can determine, it was never intended to be “ditch with underage, drunken Huskies in it.” Because, if that were the case, there are enough of those in the ‘hood on any given Friday night to fill up the land gash without resorting to vehicles. The only good thing about ASJ landing in it is he missed the row of cars he would have wiped out if the SDitch hadn’t been constructed.

    Look at the shot glass half full…this could be the SEC, where 30 probation officers per team couldn’t begin to keep track of all the You Can’t Fix Stupid violators. All the same, I fully expect McGinn to surround the spot with speed cameras any minute now.

  • Pixdawg13

    Art, you write above, “Changing nearly as fast is the public attitude toward DUI, especially in
    this town, where DUI-related vehicular homicides following
    Seferian-Jenkins’ episode took three lives and injured four others.”

    That should read “PRIOR TO Sefarian-Jenkins’…”

    That aside–were this almost any other player on the team, I’d agree that at least a one-game suspension is probably in order. It’s not–and not because ASJ is the player he is, but because he’s the person he is. That episode was shocking to many of us simply because it’s so far out of character. This is not another Jerramy Stevens. This is a young man who is clearly a good citizen who made this one serious mistake–and yes, it is and was a serious blunder to get behind the wheel having had whatever it took to get him that wasted.

    But. He’s already been dragged through the press, kept from team activities for a rather long time, no doubt had some serious parental admonishment, as well as whatever known-to-the-team-only punishment(s) Sark has leveled. He’ll be known as the tight end who was so tight he drove off the road for a long time. It’s enough.

  • TiltonRiver

    How many people at Boeing or Microsoft get sent home for two weeks and are not allowed to work due to a DUI? Is that the “real world”?

    Lets stop the hypocrisy….The same people that look at the money that flows through college athletics and refer to it as professional sports are the first to turn it around and treat it as an amateur endeavor when the self-righteous road can be taken.

    These “kids” are auditioning for a chance to make a LOT of money. ASJ is at the top of the list of those at the UW that can do just that…yet, with one cut on the practice field, his career can be reduced to nothing. He and Williams and any future husky that gets in trouble need those opportunities to further their career.

    One really shows a lack of imagination or is intentionally limiting themselves for the sake of headlines when he/she calls for a two game suspension. If I had a son that did something stupid, I wouldn’t stop him from going to his engineering classes and hurt his future career opportunities. I would make sure he is home (or in the dorm) by 10:00 for the next six months. I could make him do community service for a year – teaching the lesson that it is these behaviors that can destroy this same community. I could let him know, if it ever happens again, there will not be anymore funding of his education (loss of scholarship)….so get, yourself into a alcohol awareness program and see you at the community service…and make sure you are at work on time, everyday…your future depends on it.

  • TiltonRiver

    Sorry about the grammer :>)

  • RadioGuy

    ASJ won’t miss a down over this, especially since the UW is opening against Boise State and not Creampuff Western or some other guarantee game opponent…AND it’s the first game at renovated Husky Stadium. You think Sark doesn’t feel any pressure to win this one?
    Besides, to paraphrase the line from that drecky Love Story movie, “Being a Husky means only having to say you’re sorry.” We’ll get similar contrition from Kasen Williams soon enough, I’m sure. That’s the way it is when you want to run with the big dogs.

    • Craig H. – Bellevue

      Rad. Guy, et al – usually I agree with you, and especially since you came clean about NOT being the phat & loud-mouthed GasBagMan many moons ago on this thread, but in this matter…..U are absolutely OUT TO LUNCH, my fine feathered friend. Coach S(n)ark (sic) HAS to do something of a suspension nature with both Austin and Kasen…if nothing else, it sends a clear message to the rest of the ‘kids’ (HATE that term, btw!) on the team that even the top players will NOT be coddled. The absolute death of any baseball or softball team I either played or coached on was having a special player or two have his complete way with the rules. Talk about a total buzz-kill for team unity! There’s no ‘I’ IN ‘TEAM’, my lost-soul buddy!

      And remember how the sappy female heroine ended up in the even more-sappy ‘Love Story’ movie ??…..she died a horrible death full of cancerous cells, jungle fever, shin splints, and after reading klowns like Howard ‘Single-Wide’ Wells (above)ugh! And you say that ‘running with the big dogs’ justifies every nefarious character transgression by the players and other staff members on a f’ball team? Man, you are lost in the wilderness of NO MORALS, dudette. Wake up and smell the DAWG (non-Schultz, natch) SANKA — WOOF! — WIN THE RIGHT AND HONORABLE WAY……or stay home in bed & play with……ur Howie Wells !!

      Carry on……………

      Namaste, RadioWaves. Sale on tin peaked hats @ a Home Depot near you…..look for the Revolving Blue Light (I know…one more rip-off from K-mart).

  • jafabian

    2 games is fair. Was thinking 4 but if he plead guilty and this is his first transgression with the team then 2 seems appropriate.

  • Craig H. – Bellevue

    I’m a Husky alum from the Sixkiller Era, Art, (1971), and a huge supporter of the program, and I thoroughly AGREE with your column today that a 2-day suspension is totally warranted in this ASJ matter! Frankly, I don’t think that New Age Coach ‘Happy Mouth’ Sarkisian has the intestinal cojones to do what’s right in this matter, particularly with this being his 5th season and all (and please…NOT one more consecitive 7-5 record!), and the opening game being at the newly remodeled Husky Stadium v. a ranked opponent (and NONE of that should matter…but I bet it will !).

    We’ll see — maybe he and the AD and Univ. President will surprise us all…..FOR A CHANGE AND for a (probably momentary & illusory) BREATH OF SANITY AND PROBITY!

    Peace. GO DAWGS!

  • TheThinkingFan

    Good column, Art. I’d like to weigh in with my perspective as a lifelong Husky sports fan… and an individual with two Seattle DUIs on his record. A lot of people have that first credential, not that many can claim the second (at least, I hope not — I don’t wish it on anyone).
    I suppose my story is fairly typical — go out to watch a sports event at a bar with friends, get carried away, and then (despite friends’ admonitions) get behind the wheel and drive home. Only in my case, in both incidents (both after watching a Husky game, ironically), I didn’t get far before I hit another vehicle. Thankfully, no one was hurt either time, but someone sure could have been. If I had killed someone (and I actually know someone who did), I don’t think I could live with myself.
    After the first incident, I did just what ASJ is doing — plead guilty, apologized to everyone, did the class/victims panel, served my one day in jail (the food sucked but the guys weren’t bad), paid my fine, did my six months probation and interlock device, and moved on with my life. I thought it was over. But apparently, I didn’t learn my lesson. Remember, alcohol impairs your judgment. You can be as apologetic as hell, and really mean it, but a few years go by (that was how long it was for me) and you make the same damn mistake. I pray that doesn’t happen with ASJ, but it did with Jerramy Stevens. You don’t know what people will do, high character or not (I’ve never been in trouble with the law for anything else in my life).
    So, with that in mind, I think you are right on with the two-game suspension. I had been going along with the conventional wisdom of one game (which certainly hurts, considering the opening of the stadium and the opponent) but two is an even stronger message. And let’s face it, we need a stronger message. This problem goes way beyond ASJ, or college sports, or Seattle. This is a huge societal problem, and it demands a strong response. I’m glad society no longer treats it with a slap on the wrist and a “stuff happens” mentality. That’s wrong.
    I am in recovery, and will have an interlock device in my car for four more years (five is the standard for a second offense). It sucks, but I need to have it there–that’s been proven. I’m glad it’s there. I don’t want to have another incident, and I don’t want to hurt anyone else or myself. I want to be able to cheer the Huskies for many more years. But I would rather cheer for a university athletic department that treats this issue with the gravity it deserves. A two-game suspension would be a start in the right direction. I hope Sark and Woodward can see the big picture here. There are lives at stake.