This has been a bad week for Florida State football. Future star QB De'Andre Johnson has been dismissed from the team upon the arrival of footage showing Johnson punching a woman in the face while ordering drinks at a Tallahassee bar.
Friday, RB Dalvin Cook (you'll remember him as the 'Nole who looks like a video game player with speed and agility at 99) was charged with battery and suspended from the team, also for punching a woman multiple times in the face at a Tallahassee bar the night before the Johnson incident.
There's been no shortage of outrage found in sports media over the past week - even ESPN's First Take and Finebaum listeners agree that athletes hitting young women is, indeed, horrible. I have no interest in reiterating this fact.
The more intriguing question to be asked is "What happens next?" Assuming the consequences of Cook's actions mirror Johnson's, we will have two highly gifted college football players with no place to call home. Playing in Tallahassee again is obviously not an option, and despite their talent, getting back on the field elsewhere will be no easy task.
In a post - Ray Rice/Adrian Peterson/Jameis Winston environment, Cook and Johnson are swimming upstream against two public narratives. The first is that big, strong football players need to understand that violence against women and children is unacceptable. Thus, violators must be made examples.
The second is their branding as two more "Seminole thugs." It is easy to label them as two more in the assembly line of Seminoles with rotten character - something that Florida State football and Jimbo Fisher have overlooked in favor of stockpiling talent. Thus, Johnson and Cook are fruit from the poisonous tree, and no head coach in his right mind would consider inviting these "bad individuals" into his own program.
The repair job to be done on Johnson's public image has begun, as racial slurs and groin shots are being cited as provocation for the incident. A similar, if not more egregious provocation for Cook's incident is sure to follow. That's step one - pass some blame around to be shared.
"You see, of course these guys made terrible mistakes. No one is arguing that. But don't you remember when you were 19? Might you have responded in an unwise manner, given what she repeatedly said to you?"
Actually, no. Even a drunk, 19-year-old, me would not have slugged a woman. But just posing the question and making "her role in the incident" part of the conversation is enough to soften the blow to Johnson's image and allows for a creeping sense of public reparation.
"De'Andre is being very contrite. He understands what he did was awful, and has learned from his mistakes. He will surely handle the situation better if it repeats itself in the future."
Your job is to be impressed by how Johnson handles the situation, then forget it happened in the first place. Remember, SEC Media Days start Monday. Then it's only 40-something days till kick off. And just like that, the Football Media Machine will move on. Johnson's camp will have muddied the conversation, and the once unanimous national public outrage won't matter.
The day will come when public opinion at large will allow Johnson and Cook to play again, so the question becomes "Where?" The fallout from a third FSU dismissal earlier this summer may offer some insight.
Former FSU linebacker Ukeme Eligwe was released by Florida State for an undisclosed violation of team rules. He has since enrolled in summer school at Georgia Southern and will petition to play ball for the Eagles this coming fall.
The Eligwe-Georgia Southern connection makes a lot of sense. Geographically, Statesboro is reasonable because Eligwe is an Atlanta native. The Eagles are winners, so program success isn't a problem. But more importantly, Georgia Southern provides an opportunity for players of Eligwe's caliber to move to the top of the depth chart upon arrival. Should Eligwe's petition for instant eligibility be denied, he will only have one season to prove he is NFL ready. Thus, instant playtime matters.
At non-G5 schools, Eligwe would be competing for playtime with players of a similar caliber who aren't transfers and don't have baggage, making his chance at playtime all the less likely.
From the Eagles' perspective, Georgia Southern is under the national radar enough so that the program will take little to no blowback from the media for opening its doors to Eligwe. Conversely, schools like UGA (Eligwe's other option) often have their own preexisting disciplinary issues to handle before taking on Florida State's.
Programs of Georgia Southern's caliber do not have access to the Eligwes of the world unless they come with a "little baggage." So, given the opportunity, the gut reaction may be to celebrate the circumstances that lead to damaged stars jumping from national semifinalists to the Group of Five.
Still, given that a "little baggage" is a prerequisite for 5 star recruitment, where ought G5 schools draw the line?
When Jimbo Fisher says he has zero tolerance for this type of action, does that mean when Johnson and Cook join their new teams, that those new teams don't have zero tolerance?
What statement are you making to your team, your university, and your community when you welcome players with this baggage?
The video of Johnson hitting a woman at a bar separates his situation from all others. When players are late to team meetings or skip a few workouts, the issue can be explained away in a quick tweet or press release.
"He acted immature in the past, but he has grown up. We welcome him to Georgia Southern."
When a player is accused of a crime such as, say, stealing a laptop, or a player is caught systematically cheating on his midterms, the issue can again be explained away.
"He had a lapse of judgement. He has learned from his mistakes. He knows cheating/stealing is not okay, and has handled the situation with maturity. We welcome him to Georgia Southern."
But what about Johnson? We have long left the world of accusation and testimony, which would theoretically leave room for doubt. We are all witnesses to him punching a woman in the face when his life was not being threatened. As such, there is no explaining it away. The implicit press release becomes a much heavier pill to swallow.
"As we all saw with our own eyes, De'Andre punched a woman in the face and was not justified in doing so. Despite what this says about his character, since he has paid his due to the state of Florida, that's good enough for us. We welcome De'Andre Johnson to Georgia Southern. He will be our starting quarterback, the face of Eagles football."
As a player, student, alumni, or fan, is that a sentiment you want your program to stand by? What if it means winning the Sugar Bowl instead of going 8-4? Does that even matter? Should it?