BY Art Thiel 08:10PM 08/05/2013

Thiel: Sark, ASJ and ‘developing young men’

As Huskies fall camp opened,, coach Steve Sarkisian remained mum on suspending Austin Seferian-Jenkins for DUI. So the chance remains to do something a cut above.

Coach Steve Sarkisian has decided Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ team punishment, but he’s not saying. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Upon commencement of fall football camp Monday, Steve Sarkisian said that the 2013 Washington Huskies will be the best in his five seasons. After three consecutive 7-6 outcomes, I would expect so. Regression — with a newly renovated stadium about to twinkle from the lakeshore and nine losses in a row to the Oregon Ducks — is not an option.

So my guess is that Austin Seferian-Jenkins will suffer no more for the indiscretion that put his face into the windshield, his car in the ditch and his tight-end self in jail for night for a DUI.

Sarkisian didn’t say he would suspend perhaps his best player; he never speaks publicly of punishments, he said. But he didn’t leave a lot of doubt that he felt time had been served.

“I’ve made a decision. I know what we’re going to do — we’re going to keep it internal,” he said. “I will say this: I’ve been impressed with both these guys. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do. They impressed me in the mature fashion they’ve handled it.”

“These guys” refers to Seferian-Jenkins and a teammate, Kasen Williams, who was busted for underage drinking in a car at Lake Chelan and paid a $695 fine. That was in May. Seferian-Jenkins’s wreck in Ravenna was in March. So Williams obviously didn’t quite get the lesson.

“We keep all of our disciplinary actions internal,” Sarkisian said. “I go to sleep at night feeling good about what we’re doing. These guys will be at practice today. This has nothing to do with gamesmanship. This is how we deal with all of our disciplinary actions on this team.

“I’ve never once disclosed to you guys who’s starting or not starting, (or) guys who aren’t playing, from a disciplinary standpoint. I’ve not told you how many community service hours our players have done, or how many gassers they’ve done, or how many times they’ve had to get up and meet me early in the morning.”

For most violations of team rules, Sarkisian and most coaches don’t air their dirty laundry for all the obvious reasons. Only after he dispatches repeat violators, such as sophomore defensive end Pio Vatuvei, who was kicked off the team July 30 for unspecified misbehavior, is there a public acknowledgement.

Seferian-Jenkins not only broke team rules, he broke laws, and put himself and others in jeopardy. To his credit, he changed his plea from not guilty to guilty, paid his fine and served the mandatory minimum day in jail for misdemeanor first-time offenders. Then again, to anyone who read the police report of the incident, he would have looked silly fighting it.

The question is whether Sarkisian felt obliged to make a statement with a game suspension about how seriously his football program views the issue of DUIs. The growing community resentment about the dangers prompted the state Legislature to agree to toughen DUI laws, a rare feat for a body riven by political inertia.

So I asked Sarkisian if he felt obliged to make a statement with Seferian-Jenkins. He didn’t, and delivered a passionate explanation.

“No, I don’t,” he said. “Austin is not going to punished for everybody else’s crimes. He’s being punished for what he did on an individual basis. I’m not a lawmaker, I don’t pretend to be; that’s for people smarter than me. My job is to develop a young man I care deeply about, who’s a good kid who’s made an honest mistake, and has dealt with it.

“It’s a very serious deal. Our team has taken it seriously. I think it has hit home immensely. Am I aware of what’s going on in our community? Heck yeah, I am. I grieve for those families who’ve lost loved ones. I urge our state to be proactive in dealing with laws that deal with DUIs. But Austin will be dealt with for his incident and not what others have done.”

Sarkisian was clearly ready for the question, and he defined his answer sufficiently narrowly that it made sense.

But the point of a suspension now isn’t about Seferian-Jenkins’ mistake relative to others. That is the function of law: To create fairness. The point of a suspension would be to help curb what others may do. Such as his own players, and by extension other young people who feel as invulnerable and oblivious as Seferian-Jenkins did that night.

As the Williams episode establishes, Seferian-Jenkins’ predicament made no dent in his teammates’ behavior. It is hard to take Sarkisian seriously when he says Seferian-Jenkins’ problem “has hit home immensely.” Dubious at best. And it isn’t because the Huskies are worse, or better, than a random selection of 105 of their contemporaries.

But it is because Seferian-Jenkins and the Huskies program have such a high profile, and because young people are paying attention, that a sacrifice consequential to the group — playing a game or two without Seferian-Jenkins —  shows something greater than winning football games is going on at Montlake. As Sarkisian said: Developing young men.

But as was mentioned above, regression is not an option for the Huskies. They’re already behind in the stadium-remodel business — if you go by the Ducks’ new football facility that leads the world in mahogany, marble, barber shops and spas — and they don’t want to be down 0-2 to Boise State, the opponent in the season opener Aug. 31.

Maybe Sarkisian will surprise. We won’t know likely until kickoff. Meanwhile, I offer the wisdom offered me by a reader in a tweet that followed my previous column on the topic:

“As a Husky fan, I don’t want him suspended. As a father, I do.”



  • Matt712

    The worst-case scenario would be letting ASJ play the opener and the Huskies still lose. If he sits him and they lose, at least Sark will have some principle to stand by.
    OK, thinking like a political adviser makes me feel dirty. I’m gonna go shower now.

    • art thiel

      Actually, the worst case scenario was that ASJ killed himself or others. But as far as punishment, the game outcome is far secondary to the value placed on the seriousness of DUI by the high-profile football program. I’m sure Sark is sincere when he says both players have gone above and beyond in making amends; the problem is, without transparency and a public statement, we have to take his word for everything.

      The worst case is that either player is involved in another episode that hurts people.

  • Pixdawg13

    Kinda slanted, Art:”“These guys” refers to Seferian-Jenkins and a teammate, Kasen Williams, who was busted for underage drinking in a car at Lake Chelan
    and paid a $695 fine. That was in May. Seferian-Jenkins’s wreck in
    Ravenna was in March. So Williams obviously didn’t quite get the lesson.”

    Well, he was underage and in a car. It’s never been publicized where he was when he had that beer. I do remember the Chelan (county, city–not sure) cops saying that his BAC was “consistent with having consumed one beer several hours before”. His offense–the one related to alcohol–was not DUI; it was ‘consumption by a minor’. Sorry, I can’t get my panties in a twist over a 20-year-old who has one beer several hours before driving. ASJ’s performance–that was both incredibly stupid (of course, nobody thinks booze makes ya smarter) and incredibly out of character.

    If Kasen weren’t an athlete with a local high profile, his incident wouldn’t even get reported anywhere outside Chelan, and only there ‘cos the locals collected some money.

    • art thiel

      If Kasen weren’t an athlete, few would care. But because he is, his fate regarding team punishment — not legal punishment — in this community and all those that have big-time college football, fair or unfair, is looked at as a cultural bellwether.

      The question always is: What price glory? What is indulged because of athletic fame/prowess?

      I have no reason not to believe that ASJ and Williams are contrite and remorseful. Their words and deeds in sending the message to teammates aren’t visible to the public, but I suspect are sincere. But I also believe there needs to be a visible, meaningful consequence to the team that indicates the UW gets that public safety is a bigger deal than a game’s outcome.

  • HuskyFanPodcast

    Smoke weed & fail a drug test- You’re off the team!!!
    Break the law & endanger the public- You won’t miss a game!

    • art thiel

      There is much irony in the culture, especially now that pot is legal here. We as a culture haven’t sorted out the difference between driving stoned or drunk.

  • Mike

    It’s better than Les Miles letting his team determine the fate of the starting running back after the player beat up a guy at a bar while on probation.