OK, so Allen Pinkett wouldn’t be my first choice as keynote speaker for a seminar on the virtues of political correctness.
But that doesn’t mean he was wrong.
Notre Dame had every right to suspend the former Fighting Irish running back for three games without pay from his duties as the team’s radio analyst, every right to publicly disparage his words about what it would take for the football program to again rank among the nation’s elite.
But that doesn’t mean it was right.
Pinkett’s situation – the one in which he said a few bad citizens are needed to make a successful team, that others have won big with two or three guys who were criminals – reminds me of that scene from “A Few Good Men” when Jack Nicholson is on the witness stand talking about walls guarded by men with guns and that his existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible, saves lives.
That deep down in places we don’t talk about at parties, we want and need him on that wall.
I don’t attend a lot of parties and haven’t met many people who guard walls with guns, but deep down in places that possess my feelings about college football, I support Pinkett’s view.
He just used the wrong word when describing it.
Criminal. You can’t dress it up, can’t get past the perception of how most react to it. Pinkett was in bad need of a thesaurus.
“I don’t want any mass murders or rapists,” he said during the radio interview that led to his suspension. “I want guys that maybe get caught drinking that are underage, or guys that maybe got arrested because they got in a fight at a bar, or guys that are willing to cuss in public and don’t mind the repercussions of it. That’s the type of criminal I’m talking about.”
He’s talking about tough guys, guys with an edge, guys who are risks, guys that Florida and Alabama and Southern California and Ohio State and Florida State and on and on have had no problem taking chances on.
You know, some fellas.
I have been a Notre Dame fan since the old man sat back in his Barcalounger one evening and sprayed me when opening his 10th can of Miller Lite while cursing up a storm between smokes about how this Dan Devine character couldn’t hold the jock of The Great and Powerful Ara.
Ah, boyhood memories.
Notre Dame hasn’t been to the level most of its supporters insist it annually exists since Lou Holtz stalked the sidelines and Ricky Watters owned the backfield. There are delusional fan bases, and then there is the global conglomerate that genuflects to both Touchdown Jesus and when kissing Joe Theismann’s ring.
They continue to believe you can have it both ways – that a team can limit its recruiting pool to good citizens and those who define the sparkling characteristics of the ideal student-athlete while also fielding an annual roster capable of winning the national championship.
In short, a pipe dream.
I’m not suggesting the Notre Dame way is wrong, that promoting a value-based system that refuses to lower its recruiting standards should be condemned in any way.
It’s a benchmark to be admired.
I’m saying that while Pinkett could have found another way of making his point, his assertion about what the Irish need more of to win at the level of a top-five team couldn’t be more correct.
Notre Dame once signed and then turned away Randy Moss for off-field legal issues, turned away a player Holtz at the time called the best he ever had seen at the high school level.
When you avoid accepting too many of the Randy Mosses of the world, you do things like go 107-83 since 1997 and lose eight of 10 bowl games during that stretch.
It’s a choice and not an easy one.
But it’s true that a kid who struggles to make grades in high school or finds himself in trouble at age 17 or 18 doesn’t always show up on campus and act like a thug. The success stories of such athletes far outweigh the failures.
Notre Dame has had its share of off-field incidents of late with current players, all of whom I’m certain fit the mold of its ideal recruit on signing day. You never really know about anyone.
Which is why Pinkett should have said this: If you sign a few fellas in each recruiting class over several years and only one or two eventually step out of line, isn’t that worth it to win in the way Notre Dame desires?
And if your answer is no, fine. I get that.
Just realize that most Januarys will continue to bring this truth: If not the Gator Bowl, perhaps the Sun or Insight?
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 AM and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.