Jim Tressel and Fake Moral Outrage

By D.J. Byrnes on May 10, 2014 at 11:13 am

Since it's been almost four years since Jim Tressel's ouster, I thought the moral handkerchief-waving hysteria surrounding the man had subsided. I was mistaken.

Sports Illustrated — a publication that gave us some of the most hysterical, over-the-top coverage of Tatgate — once again has their knives aimed at Jim Tressel's back.

Actually, after reading noted Michigan Man Michael Rosenberg's latest piece, "knives" is a bit generous, because I've encountered sharper points in a toddler's favorite pack of crayons. 

To give this piece the unceremonious burial it deserves, we must start at the beginning.

Michigan hired a great football coach Sunday. Not a good one, like Greg Schiano. Not a very good one, like Les Miles. A great one. ... For the Michigan football fan who has complained incessantly for the last 10 years, Rodriguez might as well show up at this morning's news conference dressed in wrapping paper and a bow.

I'm kidding. That's a doozy Rosenberg laid on us in 2007. I dropped it here partly because I'm a prick and partly as a frame of reference. 

Let's move to the blistering hot take Rosenberg released yesterday:

Youngstown State just hired Jim Tressel as president, and some would argue that Tressel is the wrong man for the job. Me, I think he's perfect. He excels at saying one thing while he does another, pretending he cares only about education, and insulating himself with acolytes who believe, despite ample evidence, in his purity. That describes a lot of university presidents in 2014.

Rosenberg starts by insinuating college presidents are hypocrites, and that this would separate them from 99% of human beings.

To prove his case against the Vest, Rosenberg will need, shall we say, ample evidence. Let's see how this plays out.

Now Tressel can talk about "helping young people" (one of his favorite phrases), and he can unite a community (something he does frighteningly well), and maybe nobody will notice how absurd this is. I mean, the man is so ethically sketchy that he would have to beg the NCAA for permission to coach a team, but running a university is just fine.

Let's be clear, Tressel has done more than talk about helping young people; the man spent 38 years as a football coach and the last two as an university administrator. That spans his entire adult life.

And when — this side of Adolph Hitler and other maniacal dictators — did "uniting a community" become a negative? Tressel united and inspired an area that's been in an economic spiral for the last 30 years... and that's "frightening" to Mike Rosenberg? Are we sure this man is capable of leaving his house without being crippled by fear he'll get hit by a meteorite?

Who else would even try this? Most disgraced coaches would either go into TV (like Bruce Pearl) or try to find another coaching job (like ... well, also like Pearl). But Tressel is different from most coaches. He wants to be seen as a mentor with bigger priorities than winning football games. 

Yeah, he's damn right Tressel is different than most coaches.

That's why he shunned preening clown makeup and television cameras for college administration; it's only bizarre to a man who considers Tressel "ethically sketchy."

And what a great guy to hold up as a moral contrast to Jim Tressel: Bruce freakin' Pearl. 

This would be admirable if his actions backed it up.

Rosenberg literally listed an example of Tressel backing up his words in the same paragraph to which this sentence is attached. 

Now Tressel can watch Youngstown State games in the DeBartolo Stadium Club, named for the DeBartolo family, who have been big Youngstown State boosters for a long time. Eddie Debartolo Jr. (convicted of bribing former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards) later started a sports agency which landed prominent Ohio State players Troy Smith and Beanie Wells, but of course Tressel knows everything was done above-board, because he monitors these things, except when he doesn't.

Rosenberg struck at the heart of corruption in this graph. It turns out, as long as you haven't murdered, raped or said disgustingly racist things on tape to your mistress, colleges will generally take your money in exchange for plastering your name on a campus building.

But yeah, I'm stumped as to why Troy Smith and Beanie Wells would want to sign with a billionaire (and fellow northeastern Ohioan) who won five Super Bowls as owner of the San Francisco 49ers.

I'm also stumped as to what Rosenberg is trying to insinuate. Although, it's unclear even he knows, because again, all we have is underhanded suggestions about sinister events that he doesn't clarify.

But hey, I guess it's a lot easier to throw mud than report. Mud is also much easier to shoehorn into your agenda than those bastard things we call "facts."

When Tressel coached Youngstown State, trustee Mickey Monus provided nearly $10,000 and the use of automobiles to star Ray Isaac. It seems like the head coach should know when a university trustee is paying his starting quarterback.

Tressel says he didn't know, and nobody has ever proven he did. But we do know this: Monus testified that Tressel asked him to get Isaac a job. The NCAA inquired about illegal payments in 1994. Tressel convinced everybody nothing had gone wrong, and Youngstown State avoided NCAA penalties for another six years.

The only people who think giving away  $10,000 and the use of automobiles is "ethically sketchy" is the NCAA (and apparently Mike Rosenberg).

And yeah, Jim Tressel, who was unable to avoid punishment as a five time national champion and head of one of the most powerful programs in the nation in 2010, avoided punishment at Youngstown State by "convincing everybody nothing had gone wrong." 

That's a level of simplistic reduction usually reserved for babbling, non-toilet trained toddlers.

As any college football fan knows, in his final year at Ohio State, several of Tressel's players broke NCAA rules by receiving extra benefits. Tressel knew about it, and in a bold display of leadership and ethics, decided to win some football games.

Or maybe — and I'm just spitballin' here — Tressel decided not to penalize 100+ players in the program for the actions of five. That's the kind of real-word, pragmatic decisions people make when they're the head of a multimillion dollar organizations.

But again, this whole rotten premise hinges on thinking trading earned memorabilia for free or discounted tattoos is unethical.

He told nobody about the violations, which was not surprising to many of his fellow coaches. Tressel has a habit of turning off the lights and then claiming he was left in the dark.

There were so many coaches not surprised by the violations Rosenberg named zero.

Could you see this coming? Well, in 2003, The New York Times published a story alleging serious academic fraud in Tressel's program. Almost two weeks later, Tressel was asked about this at the Big Ten football media day in Chicago. He could have said the story was wrong. He could have acknowledged mistakes. He did neither.

He said: "I have to be honest. I didn't read it."

Clever, no? As a reporter, how can you press a man for answers about a story he says he didn't read? Tressel pulled his usual media act from there, slow-playing his answers and serving one platitude after another. He was the coach of the defending national champs. Ohio loved him. If he didn't seem worried about The New York Times questioning the integrity of his program, Buckeyes fans wouldn't worry, either. And they didn't.

Yes, the New York Times piece alleged Maurice Clarett wasn't taking hard classes during his time at Ohio State. It was investigated and nothing happened.

It could be due to the fact if the NCAA investigated every academically underqualified player's course work, the talent pool on which their billions are ginned would be severely depleted.

There's also the (shocking) possibility nothing came of it because the report wasn't true.

Tressel is many things, but at the top of the list is this: He is patient. This is how he won so many of his games at Ohio State -- he never panicked, and he was comfortable waiting until the fourth quarter to pull out a victory. It is also how he managed to wade through so many controversies without drowning.

He never lashed out at Maurice Clarett, who repeatedly talked about rules that were broken during Ohio State's 2002 national-title run. Tressel did not want to make those stories any bigger than they already were, or prod the media into digging deeper. Anyway, Tressel could burnish his own reputation, and neutralize Clarett, by slowly pulling him back over to his side. That is what he did, brilliantly.

This is beyond depraved. 

Tressel didn't burn Maurice Clarett to the ground because he clearly cared for the young man. To think Tressel visiting his incarcerated former pupil is "ethically sketchy" requires a purple belt in mental jujitsu and six gallons of Haterade.

What did Tressel gain by visiting Clarett in prison, other than nothing? Clarett had already been neutralized as a threat to OSU football, and his credibility was shot. If Tressel were the huckster Rosenberg is so desperate to paint him as, he'd have left Clarett to rot.

This attempted kill shot reeks of hubris so strong it would make the corpse of Captain Ahab roll over in disgust. 

Tressel is not beset by the flaws we normally associate with corrupt coaches: Hyper-competitiveness, paranoia, temper, insecurity. He seems to believe in his virtuousness almost completely.

Another flaw of Tressel's: He's not beset by awful, crippling traits that have sunk so many coaches humans. 

But if it's paranoia and insecurity for which Rosenberg is looking, a quick glance in his bathroom mirror should do the trick.

If you had a great kid, you would do well to send him to play for Tressel. The coach would treat him well, teach him how to be responsible, and celebrate his academic and athletic success.

Wait... what?

And if the kid next to him got caught cheating, you might even believe Tressel was the best man to deal with it -- however he saw fit, regardless of what the rulebook says. After all, he is Jim Tressel, mentor to young people. Trust him.

Jim Tressel is a great man. Is he a saint? No. You don't rise to the top of the cesspool that is college football by being a saint.

But when Jim Tressel was unceremoniously dumped by Ohio State, he fell on his sword like the good soldier he's always been. He could have torched Ohio State and ridden off into the sunset with a fistful of championship rings and millions in his bank account, but he didn't. 

After a short cameo with the Indianapolis Colts, he walked away from football to return to college campuses. Why? Because that's where the young people are, and helping them is pretty much all Tressel knows. (You could say it's almost like a moral obligation.)

Tressel was reportedly offered the presidency at two universities, and he doesn't even have a doctorate. It's either because he's a mind-controlling sociopath, or because some of the most educated people in the state think he'd be great at the helm of their university.

The only people who think Jim Tressel is immoral are NCAA water-carriers, fans of programs he crushed for a decade and hacks trying to earn internet clicks by throwing clumps of shit at the wall like unkempt baboons. It appears Mike Rosenberg is all three.

Why didn't Tressel read the 2003 New York Times piece? For the same reason he won't read Rosenberg's latest missive: He's busy doing more important work than cobbling together inane sentences on the internet or reading them.

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