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The Kids Are Going to Be OK

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Part of SMQ's "Farewell Week."
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Recruiting fans will know Josh Jarboe as both a sought-after receiver recruit out of Atlanta and as the kid who was charged with two felony counts for bringing a loaded gun to his high school about a month after signing with Oklahoma. In light of that trouble, he was lucky to retain his scholarship then and remain on schedule to start practice with the Sooners this week.

It might have been best, with one eligibility-threatening incident behind him, for Jarboe to sequester himself in a room, cut his hair, practice knotting ties, and read up about the pre-war Bulgarian tendency to oscillate between strong support for Germany and enthusiastic Slavophilism toward Russia until practice started. Instead, if you haven’t seen it already, he made this:

As Brian Cook points out, as of Thursday, Bob Stoops had no inclination to consider a rap video as evidence of relapse:

"Kick a guy off the team for what he says?" Stoops said. The whole Internet culture frustrates Stoops. "We're starting to talk about everything kids say and do," Stoops said. "Now we're in people's homes, in their private spaces."
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A perfectly reasonable response to an incident in which a legal adult -- while undeniably behaving stupidly -- failed to harm, threaten, vandalize, accost, steal from, or otherwise intrude on the life of another individual. A hallmark of perspective.

Friday, Stoops kicked Jarboe off the team. What happened in 24 hours to take the coach from worry about violating his player’s "private spaces" to unambiguous expulsion? The video made the rounds on the Web, normal people had a laugh (or, more likely, a shrug), uptight people were shocked -- shocked! -- and accordingly e-mailed and wrote columns to express their Shock and Disappointment, and the resulting public pressure forced Stoops into the role of reluctantly overbearing sheriff.

Was it "the Internet culture" that asked him to act swiftly, with the full weight of his position? Every Day Should Be Saturday, the most widely-read college football blog on the Web, linked to the video with no call for discipline. The very mainstream-leaning Wizard of Odds, which broke the video’s existence and posted the version that drew tens of thousands of hits last week, made no call for discipline. None called Jarboe a "thug" or described his freestyle efforts as "jabber." Who, then, is Stoops actually frustrated with?

How can I ruin my future today?
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I haven’t listened to the video and don’t care what’s in it. Unless it contains a specific threat -- "William Moore, I’m-a come to ya house at 2429 West 26th Street #7, Columbia, MO 65201 at 1:47 a.m. Aug. 11, 2008, and stick my whistle in ya mouth!" -- its actual content is completely beside the point. I’m no fan of rap and personally regard the great bulk of it as aurally bankrupt and uninteresting, especially the amateur version no doubt offered here. But I also have a basic concept of contemporary popular culture, and a grasp of what therein does and does not qualify as an actionable danger to society. Rap, by its nature, does not qualify. I have good friends from stable Christian homes with no legal records who work desk jobs for the federal government and law firms and spend half their free time writing violent, misogynistic rhymes for their goofy "side project," the "Ghost Profits." Because they like rap, or at least think it’s fun, and that’s what rap is. I doubt they’d get fired from their über-white collar jobs if they took it seriously enough to post a video on YouTube, mainly because no one would see it. But if they did, it would be the equivalent of an embarassing turn at karaoke, and they’d be good-naturedly mocked for a day or two while being dumped with stacks of TPS reports or whatever.

Barry Tramel, because he’s old and somewhat frightened and confused by message boards and obviously has no idea what the kids are up to these days, isn’t expected to recognize that video as what it is, the modern 18-year-old black kid’s equivalent of karaoke, or the kind of harmless, dead-end garage band in which young Barry himself may have once performed (or at least dreamed of, perhaps to a cover of John Lennon’s catchy ode to murdering your girlfriend, "Run For Your Life"). Unlike John Lennon, though, or mafia-connected, filandering draft dodger Frank Sinatra, or whichever spaced-out addict rocked Tramel’s world way back when, Jarboe doesn’t look like them, or (probably) the kids in Tramel’s neighborhood today, and he certainly doesn’t sound like them. The kids these days, with their hair and music...

Tramel is right about one thing:

It was no clear choice for Jarboe to even be welcome in Norman in the first place, after he was charged with a felony in March and pleaded guilty in May. A judge reduced the conviction to a misdemeanor under Georgia's First Offender's Act, otherwise Jarboe would not even have been eligible for a scholarship, under OU policy.

Oklahoma media did not chastise Stoops for taking the gamble; he had earned the right to be trusted on such dicey decisions.
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This is true: Jarboe avoided serious felony charges only by the generosity of a judge, and it would have been reasonable to bar the kid from campus following such a serious ‘strike one.’ No one would have blinked. But he wasn’t barred, he got a second chance, one that presumably didn’t include a clause that said, "Void upon posting of boring videos on YouTube." Like Mike Freeman’s crusade against Phil Fulmer, enforcement of the standard implied by Tramel and his applauding Oklahoman colleague John Rohde would require an informal Stassi of informers and busybodies that obsessively monitors players’ Internet, drinking, and sexual habits and does its damndest to push them behind a wall, safe from the blogs and temptations of society. God forbid that a kid with one black mark -- in Jarboe’s case, not even a college kid, yet -- be allowed to continue to look like, dress like, and listen to the same music as most of the other kids he knows.

Incidents like this one will continue to pop up on a regular basis, moreso because of the Internet, and people like Tramel, Rohde, Freeman, and the online readers of The State will continue to express stunned outrage at the degeneration of a society gone horribly wrong. Coaches will continue to find themselves in the sights of do-gooding reformers who seem to demand a football team whose members conduct themselves at all times like they’re on a job interview. Old white men -- and a few old black men, like Freeman, age and cultural bearings being far more important here than race -- will continue to feel threatened or just bewildered by the proclivities of young black men, and compelled to condemn them by whatever argument they can put together.

But the men who know the players better than any beat writer who’s never met the kid -- like Fulmer, or in Jarboe’s case, his high school coach, Ray Bonner, or Stoops, whose instinct was to downplay the incident as an invasion of privacy -- continue to vouch for them:

"My players rap," Bonner said. "It's a cultural thing."

Bonner pointed to rap artist and Atlanta native Ludacris, whose new song "Politics as Usual" made headlines this week because of disparaging lyrics against political leaders.

"Ludacris can say whatever he wants to say, he doesn't care and he's a man," Bonner said. "To Josh, he (thinks he) didn't do anything (wrong) because he wants to be a rapper.
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There’s "probably bad judgment" and there’s "we must sever all ties with this kid’s best opportunity to earn an education and succeed in the future." Both are appropriate at times -- any instance involving violence, for example -- but beware the pundits who leap immediately to option ‘B.'