A crazed player ends his career, but did he shoulder too much blame?
LeGarrette Blount will never gain another yard for the Oregon Ducks football team.
Nor, come to that, will he lose another yard.
That latter achievement, though it’s one running backs such as Blount strive to avoid, is perhaps his more fitting epitaph, given the statistics he amassed during his final game.
He carried the ball eight times and lost five more yards from scrimmage than he gained.
Numbers aside, I believe it is appropriate that Blount has taken his last handoff as a Duck.
Blount’s frenzy immediately following Oregon’s 19-8 loss to Boise State on Sept. 3 warranted Coach Chip Kelly’s decision to suspend Blount for the rest of the season.
(By way of explaining that my interest in this matter is not purely professional, I graduated from Oregon, and my affinity for Duck football has been described, by rational people, as an obsession that might not be altogether healthy.)
For Blount, who’s a senior, the suspension amounts to an abrupt end to his career at Oregon.
But though I believe Blount’s punishment is justified, I am not satisfied that justice has truly been served as regards the ugly scene at Bronco Stadium in Boise
(I don’t mean here to malign such a noble word as justice by using it to describe the aftermath of something as comparatively trivial as a football game.)
Because Blount’s outburst, though indefensible, was hardly a spontaneous act. To describe it as such is as fallacious, it seems to me, as claiming that a tornado “came out of nowhere,” when, in point of meteorological fact, the twister would not have formed had various factors not been present to sufficiently roil the atmosphere.
Which is sort of what happened, except for the wind, last Thursday right after the final buzzer blared at Boise:
Blount was walking off the field, amid dozens of players, coaches and officials, when Byron Hout, a BSU defensive end, smacked his hand against Blount’s shoulder pad.
Hout also said something to Blount.
Boise State Coach Chris Petersen, who was standing a few feet away, immediately rushed forward and grabbed Hout’s jersey.
As Hout turned his head toward Petersen and away from Blount, Blount slugged Hout’s jaw.
I don’t know what Hout said to Blount.
It might be that only Hout knows for certain.
But his words don’t matter anyway.
To suggest that anything Hout might have said would justify Blount’s punch is silly.
Yet I believe it’s even sillier to act as though Hout didn’t do what the infamous video clip, which has about had its pixels worn out in the past nine days, proves that he did do.
It all happened.
Hout’s slap on the shoulder pad.
His saying whatever it is he said.
Hout’s actions are every bit as real as Blount’s right hook.
And so it seems to me reasonable to wonder whether Blount would have thrown the punch if Hout had either kept his hand off, or his mouth shut, or both.
My answer to this hypothetical question is a simple no.
What I mean, then, is that I think Hout provoked Blount.
This in no way exonerates Blount.
Not even slightly.
Hout contributed to the imbroglio but he is not solely responsible for it.
Blount should not have punched Hout.
Blount earned his punishment.
But what, then, about Hout?
Petersen said he will punish Hout. But the penalty will not include a suspension.
This, I think, is a rare blunder on Petersen’s part.
By punishing Hout, no matter what this entails, Petersen has admitted, and rightly so, that Hout made a mistake.
That Hout’s mistake was trifling compared with Blount’s is irrelevant.
As Petersen himself told reporters, “it always takes two to tangle.”
Or, as it’s more commonly put, two to tango.
And Hout, in this particular dance, was no wallflower.
What perplexes me is why Petersen would conclude, as it seems to me he has done, that Hout, who without provocation both touched and yelled at an opponent after a game ended, does not deserve to miss even a single down during the 12 games left on the Broncos’ schedule.
I wonder if Petersen is reluctant because he fears that suspending Hout would be tantamount to admitting his player had a role, however minor, in the Blount-led melee that ensued.
I think that’s a groundless worry.
This is not some zero-sum equation.
Suspending Hout would in no way diminish Blount’s responsibility; nobody forced his fist to lash out at Hout’s cheek.
Yet if Petersen believes, as I do, that if Hout had simply walked away then Blount almost certainly would have done the same, then it seems to me incongruous that he concluded Hout shouldn’t ride the bench at all.
The episode didn’t, of course, end with Blount’s punch.
As he was walking toward the tunnel that leads from the stadium to the visiting team’s locker room, Blount had to be restrained, first by an Oregon coach and players, and eventually by police, from getting into a scrap with Boise State fans in the bleachers.
As with the punch, Blount’s actions were egregious and unworthy of defense.
But again, they didn’t occur in a vacuum, without context.
After the punch, while Blount was walking, comparatively calmly, across the field toward the exit tunnel, the person who runs the video screen on the Bronco Stadium scoreboard replayed, in basically a continuous loop, the scene of Blount hitting Hout.
(With Hout’s shoulder pad smash conveniently omitted.)
Predictably, some BSU fans sitting near the tunnel were displeased with what they saw.
Except I don’t think any of those spectators, considering they were sitting 50 yards or so from where Blount punched Hout, would have seen the punch at all if it hadn’t been brandished on a screen bigger than the side of a house.
And if those fans hadn’t seen the punch, it seems to me logical to conclude that they wouldn’t have had any particular animosity for Blount.
Yet, as he approached the tunnel, fans not only screamed obscenities at him — as well as, allegedly, racial slurs — but one man swung an open hand at Blount’s head and, so far as I could tell from the video I watched, connected.
The bottom line here, it seems to me, is that quite a few people acted stupidly on that warm late summer night in Boise.
Blount, without question, was the worst of the lot, and by a considerable margin.
But Blount has been dealt with.
And he was dealt with in a manner as harsh as was available to his coach and his university.
Yet he is, I think, the only person involved in this debacle about which that statement can reasonably be made.
This offends me.
As it should offend anyone who believes that, in any situation where anger temporarily subsumes the more thoughtful emotions, every person whose actions escalated the fracas ought to be brought to account.
What I’m getting at, really, is the notion that we should pursue, to the limits of our endurance, that quarry called fairness.
It is elusive, that one, and as clever as any fox.
And this time, I’m afraid, it has outrun the chasers by a goodly distance.