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Will Somebody (Other Than Mike Freeman) Please Think About the Children?!

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I don't really ever, like, "fisk" people, or whatever it is. I think it's a waste of time and generally bad form. Anyone who writes on a deadline on a regular basis is destined for some howling mistakes. But it's the offseason, and Tony Kornheiser has filed another incoherent missive for the soon-to-be-bestselling Big Book of Shortsighted Geezers on Blogging, and occasionally some mainstream missive is too wrongheaded, mean-spirited and ineptly argued to ignore. "Occasionally," in this case, refers to the intervals between Sportsline columns by Mike Freeman.

Freeman is a bad writer. Not just this time, but every time, as a fabric of his being. He was fired from the Indianapolis Star for claiming a degree he didn't earn. His columns are filled with logical gaffes, awkward one-liners and insulting schtick on a consistent basis. Based on his existing body of work (see this ridiculous column on Chris Leak's Heisman hopes, or this ridiculous column on the invincibility of the 2006 Ohio State Buckeyes, for starters) there were no grounds for his continued employment on a mainstream Web site long before his latest effort there ran under the headline:

I saw the headline Monday and thought, "That's wrong." Not just inappropriate or a misrepresentation of the situation at Tennessee, but factually wrong (we'll get to that point in a minute). It being Mike Freeman, though, I didn't consider actually trying to make sense of it until it started to make the rounds this morning. Somehow, it exceeded expectations.

Obliterated them, actually, from the first "sentence":

So let me get this straight.
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Freeman: not dumb. Just writes dumb things.
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I've opened a few books that I knew instantly were irredeemably terrible from the opening line - The Da Vinci Code,for example, or Skinny Dip. At least novelists have the courtesy to be originally bad. There are 770,000 Google hits for the cliché "So let me get this straight," and all of them are bad. Bad by definition. Nothing worthwhile can ever follow any line so automatic, entailing so little thought, as "So let me get this straight."

Even by this lowest of standards, Freeman goes on to disappoint. The headline (in fairness, probably not the writer's) intones "cell doors slam[ming] shut," and the first actual thought in the story cites the "felony-riddled reign of Phil `Chancellor Palpatine' Fulmer." The situation in Knoxville is, he says, "almost an historic abomination," with players "running amok with the kind of scrofulous ruthlessness not seen in years," not merely "low-level misdemeanors," but "bad stuff. Stuff that makes Tennessee a recruiting ground for the Tony Soprano crime family." What shocking business must go down there among "the lifestyles of the athletic and felonious in Knoxville."

Okay, Mike. Let `em have it. Bring justice unto these predatory outlaws, and shed the light of truth on their violent ravaging of an otherwise pristine campus committed to the sober pursuit of the highest ideals. Lay their felonies bear for the world to see and judge...

On Jan 11, 2008: Police cite freshman wide receivers Gerald Jones and Ahmad Paige for possession of marijuana following a traffic stop near campus while the two hosted a recruit from Oklahoma on his official visit, the newspaper reported. Freshman offensive lineman William Brimfield, who was with Paige and Jones at the time, was not charged by police but was disciplined by Fulmer.

From the report the Jan. 14 News-Sentinel: "Two Tennessee football players were charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana following a traffic stop Friday night in the Fort Sanders area near campus..."

On Jan. 21: Campus police arrest freshman tailback Daryl Vereen for public intoxication and underage consumption after responding to a call of a fight in progress outside an on-campus residence hall.

From a January 2007 entry on the Tennessee Criminal Lawyer Blog: "In the experience of our Tennessee criminal attorneys, criminal charges can result when a person under twenty-one years of age transports alcohol...Underage consumption is a Class A misdemeanor."

On Jan. 26: Police arrest All-SEC lineman Anthony Parker for disorderly conduct at an off-campus apartment complex, the paper says.

From the report in the Jan. 31 Tennesseean: "Parker was charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor." That article, on Parker's punishment, was written one day after his charges were dropped.

Feb. 2: A walk-on defensive back, Vince Faison, was arrested for DUI after police found Faison passed out behind the wheel of his truck in the parking lot of an on-campus fast-food restaurant with the engine running, the paper wrote, and his foot on the brake pedal with the vehicle in gear.

From the Tennessee entry of "...most Tennessee DUI offenses are classified as misdemeanors..." DUI is not a felony in Tennessee until a fourth offense, which did not apply to Faison.

Feb. 13: Fulmer dismisses two players, the paper reports, for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Both players were arrested within the past 18 months.

From the Feb. 14 report in the Tennesseean: "Davis was involved with police earlier this season while visiting his hometown of Iowa City, Iowa. He was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct following a physical altercation with another man, a police report said." Disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor in every state.

Wardlow was one of four Vols arrested in November 2006 for disorderly conduct and underage consumption, more misdemeanors.

Finally, Freeman can cite an actualy felony:

Feb. 17: Police arrest the Vols' punter for DUI and leaving the scene of an accident after he allegedly struck a parked car causing more than $400 in damage.

Hit-and-run is a felony. So he avoids libel.

Now, given that record, an article that said something like "Tennessee football is out of control" wouldn't be so out of line, and certainly wouldn't be new, either. Fulmer has a long line of incidents and arrests under his watch. Eight players were arrested between January and June 2005, another four in the summer of 2006. Back in November, police questioned center Josh McNeil about a broken window, but he wasn't charged. Three girls in the house were charged with underage consumption. DUI, while not a felony, is a pretty big deal.

Welcome to Mike Freeman U. Practice is at seven.
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But Freeman doesn't say, "That's a troubling pattern of fairly routine misconduct," which is what it is. His column specifically cites felonies, jail cells and an unparalleled record of "scofrolous ruthlessness" - "the rottenest, most dastardly ever" - despite no record therein of violence or sexual assault, no record of jail time and barely a felony charge in the lot.  And he cites this behavior only at Tennessee, despite well-known running tallies of player arrests that cite really dangerous, violent crime: convenience store stick-ups, vandalism and property damage, assault with a glass bottle, reckless discharge of a firearm, felony coke and pills possession, aggrevated assault during an armed robbery, etc. All of those serious felonies were committed in the last month alone, and none involved players from Tennessee. After another pair of arrests last weekend, Iowa has had 14 players arrested in 13 months, including charges for unauthorized use of a credit card, domestic assault, unlawful possession of a prescription drug (that would be 21 doses of oxycodone and 24 doses of carisoprodol in a dorm room desk) and three separate incidents of drunk driving. In 2006, Ohio U. had 17 players arrested in a nine-month span, not including its head coach, who was hit with a drunk driving charge in November 2005.

Yet Freeman writes, "Public intoxication, drunkenness, and fights seem to be a main theme when it comes to rules breakers in the Tennessee program," as if this and worse wasn't the case in basically every program, and in college-age males in general.

I think anyone with any experience on a college campus (whch includes Freeman, I think, his history of bogus credentials notwithstanding) can say with a good degree of certainty: kids drink, fight and smoke pot everywhere. All the time. That is a prototypical college experience in a nutshell, and not remotely worth this kind of effort unless people are actually getting hurt and/or locked up. Tennessee players engaging in run-of-the-mill misdemeanors have the misfortune of getting caught at an unusually high rate, just like the poor cavalcade of underage drinkers at Georgia. His program looks bad, but Fulmer is right to respond to this overexcited finger-wagging: if every beer, joint, shove and ill-advised ride home committed by college players was caught by the police and reported in the paper, and every coach held to this standard, there'd either be no coaches left, or the athletic dorms of America would look like Guantanamo Bay.

Understand, though, that Freeman's column is not really about player arrests. His real beef is that NCAA rules were the catalyst in Indiana's decision to push Kelvin Sampson out the door for his umpteenth recruiting violation. Freeman doesn't defend Sampson, but he does wonder why the NCAA can enforce punishment for violations of its own rules, leading to a coach's ouster, but not come down on programs whose players are breaking the law: "Severely punishing programs whose players constantly break the law should also be under the NCAA's watch and mandate. Why not?"

The answer, of course, is that the NCAA is not a law enforcement organization and wisely doesn't interfere where it has no business. What happens when the NCAA starts doling out suspensions and getting coaches fired for charges that do not stick? None of the players cited in Freeman's article have been convicted; one has already had his charges dropped. What kind of hellfire should the Association have rained down upon Duke LaCrosse? The NCAA is a bureaucracy with a specific interest in an athlete's eligibility. It is not a part of the criminal justice system. It enforces its laws; the government enforces its laws. And ne'er the twain shall meet.

Anyway, get off your high horse, ink-stained do-gooders, and get a clue. Yes, stop writing sensationalistic, reactionary diatribes that instantly fly around message boards and generate hundreds of intense eyeballs. I don't know why I wasted my time with this.