Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Darryl Stonum to Sit Out 2011 Season

At this point, it's probably fair to say that Brady Hoke runs a pretty tight ship.

The Michigan athletic department announced Sunday, August 7, that senior wide receiver Darryl Stonum will redshirt the 2011 season. This comes after Stonum was arrested for a DUI back in May and was indefinitely suspended by head coach Brady Hoke. Because it was Stonum's second DUI (he had another one under Rich Rodriguez), Hoke determined that it was best for the senior student-athlete if he spends 2011 on the sidelines. 

Although Stonum will be able to practice with his teammates, he will be unable to participate in home games and will be invariably unable to attend away games. Assuming he is in good graces with Hoke and the coaching staff, Stonum will return to actual playing time in 2012. His suspension will be treated as a redshirt.

"While it would be great to have Darryl on the field this season, we feel it is in his best interest and the best interest of our program for him to redshirt," Hoke said in a statement from the athletic department, as part of the same one announcing Stonum's redshirt. "Darryl will continue to be an important part of our team and family. He has done everything we have asked him to do, but our number one priority is to help Darryl grow as a person." (The athletic department also announced the suspensions of punter Will Hagerup and wide receiver Terrance Robinson, who will sit out the first four games and the season opener, respectively.)

The first time Stonum was arrested, it was 2008 and Michigan had just defeated Wisconsin in a major upset. (The Wolverines went 3-9 that year.) The Ann Arbor News reported on Tuesday, November 4, 2008, that Stonum had been charged with drunk driving and driving on a suspended license the previous day. Rich Rodriguez reportedly suspended Stonum for one game, but he played in the next, albeit not as the starter. Likely due to the fact that Stonum's arrest in 2011 was his second offense, Brady Hoke has increased the severity of the punishment and suspended him for the entire 2011 season.

Not surprisingly, Michigan fans across the blogosphere have attempted to see the silver lining. First, Hoke's suspension of Stonum was swift and immediate, without promising any playing time, which means that Hoke apparently holds the players far more accountable than Rodriguez did. (Although, to be fair, we cannot know the circumstances by which Rodriguez came to his decision to reinstate Stonum.) Regardless, the severity of the punishment is telling. Some see it to Hoke's credit as an ethical coach.

Others see possible positive outcomes: Stonum's redshirt means that he will be eligible to play in 2012, when Michigan will be desperate for skilled receivers. Convenient? Perhaps. But what's the alternative? The Wolverine Blog took a poll of what people think should happen to Stonum because of his wrong-doing. Approximately 59% voted that he should sit out 2011 and see if he's ready in 2012, 24% voted that he deserves another chance (if he can prove it to the coaches), and 17% voted that he should be kicked off the team entirely.

The third option seems to be the only "concrete" alternative, as the second appears far too lax for a repeat offense. However, kicking Stonum off the team entirely would accomplish nothing except show that Michigan may have a zero-tolerance policy about drunk driving. It probably should have such a policy, but students do not get expelled from Michigan if they are arrested for a DUI. (If memory serves, however, they do get expelled for assault.) Should student-athletes be treated harsher than other students?

It stands to reason that they shouldn't, but we're missing the greater point here. Removing Stonum permanently does nothing to teach him anything about his behavior. At most, it would only provoke him to transfer. If that were to happen, the problem would not be fixed, and the only thing Michigan could say about it is: "Well, he's someone else's problem now." That's not the right way to approach it. The college football world has too many Cam Newtons and Terrelle Pryors.

Instead, Michigan has taken a pragmatic approach. By redshirting Stonum, he feels the punishment more acutely. He is forced to sit out a season and watch as his teammates play games without him, and each game that he doesn't play in serves as a reminder of the mistake he made. If he were off the team, it wouldn't matter because he could find a relatively easy fix by simply transferring to a program where DUIs are more tolerated. Here, Michigan shows that it has no tolerance for bad behavior but has an effective form of behavior management. Stonum's redshirt should compel him to behave better and become a better person, which is ultimately what Michigan as a program should want, and what Hoke has said will be the goal: to hold players accountable.

Michael Spath of TheWolverine.com certainly sees it that way. "There are all sorts of ways to teach a lesson and maybe no right or wrong answer," he wrote. "Hoke is an upstanding guy and I do not for one second question his moral integrity - like I didn’t with Carr. He will make a decision and maybe it will be even stricter than the one proposed here but I would make Stonum’s path to becoming a Michigan Man the most difficult one (he) has ever faced because only then will he understand the risk he took with his life and with those that share the road with him. Only then will he understand the gravity of what he did and only then will he be faced with the opportunity to grow from his poor choice, put the past in the past, and take a step towards becoming the man that will benefit society in the future instead of selfishly putting it in harm’s way yet again."

One cannot help but compare Michigan's decision to suspend Stonum to that of Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly's decision to reinstate Michael Floyd. Both are highly skilled wide receivers, both were arrested for DUIs, and both were suspended indefinitely. The only difference is that, weeks before the 2011 season is about to start, Brian Kelly chose to reinstate Michael Floyd. (Again, to be fair, like with the suspension from Rich Rodriguez, we cannot know what made Kelly decide to reinstate Floyd. It may have been because Floyd genuinely showed Kelly that he had improved as a person, or it may have been because Floyd was instrumental to Kelly's offense.)

In any case, Hoke has made the right call here. With any luck Stonum will be motivated to work harder and follow the rules. And don't misunderstand the punishment: even though Stonum is able to return in 2012, sitting out for 2011 is severe. In this case, it appears to be warranted, and generally everyone appears to be satisfied by it.

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