For those keeping score at home, the scoreboard reads: Scandalous Front-Page Arrests 7, Griz Pride 0.
Over the course of five months, the usually untouchable University of Montana football program has seen at least seven players land in jail for an alarming spate of crimes. The latest demonstration of Grizzlies Gone Wild comes courtesy of running back Greg Coleman, cornerback Jeremy Pate and defensive end Michael Shelton, all recently charged with kidnapping and robbery. The trio allegedly dressed up in ski masks to play gangster in a machinegun-toting, pistol-whipping break-in to shake down a University area pot dealer last week.
The arrests add to an already long 2007 team rap sheet. Cornerback Tim Parks showed the new team spirit in September when he allegedly pointed a gun at a Missoula woman’s head and slapped her. Police charged offensive lineman J.D. Quinn with his third DUI in July. And cornerback Jimmy Wilson remains in a Southern California jail on a murder charge. Cornerback Qwenton Freeman, meanwhile, finds himself entangled as well. He allegedly witnessed the SoCal shooting, played a role in last week’s drug shakedown, and was busted on separate charges of disorderly conduct and assault over the summer. Now he’s reportedly on the run in Oregon.
Regardless of the outcome of this year’s thus-far undefeated season, these latest charges guarantee 2007 will be known for its off-field indiscretions above any on-field achievements. Head coach Bobby Hauck and Athletic Director Jim O’Day seem to get it—they reacted quickly to this week’s news, expressing shock and disappointment. But what now?
UM’s track record of accepting questionable transfers must be addressed. Four of the aforementioned athletes had documented character issues before joining the Griz—Coleman an assault charge, Freeman an outstanding arrest warrant, Quinn two DUIs and major NCAA violations, and Shelton, who only joined the Griz in October, was dismissed from his team for “rules violations” at the University of Arizona.
And then there’s this bit of unpleasantness that everyone wants to avoid: six of the seven players are African-American, competing in a predominately white community. The one white player with big problems, Quinn, remains the only one still competing on Saturdays. Griz Internet forums now mimic the xenophobic cries we heard from Bozeman when the Bobcats were awash in drug scandals last year. A post on eGriz.com suggested “It’s time to…lose the dew rags [sic]” and another decried recruiting “city thugs,” both veiled affronts to black athletes.
This scourge of transgressions now threatens to spiral out of control in the always passionate Griz Nation. We hope Hauck and O’Day suggest intelligent, long-term answers soon, before this particular struggle becomes a blowout.