UPDATE: The State Attorney’s Office has dropped the charges against Morrison, and Muschamp called him a “great young man” who used poor judgment. “As of now,” Muschamp later said, “nothing has changed with Antonio’s discipline status.”
When athletes get into trouble with the law, coaches are often criticized for not dishing out discipline right away.
Though it’s frowned upon and considered a cop out, it behooves them in most cases to gather all the information and let the legal system run its course before choosing their course of action.
The latest incident involving Florida’s Antonio Morrison highlights why they should and usually do wait.
The sophomore linebacker, who is currently serving a deferred prosecution agreement for misdemeanor battery last month, was arrested early Sunday morning by Alachua County Sheriff’s Office deputies and charged with maliciously harassing, teasing and interfering with a police dog engaged in duty and resisting arrest without violence.
Later that day, UF coach Will Muschamp suspended Morrison from the team and said he will miss at least two games to begin the season.
Before I go any further, let me say that if Morrison was specifically told after his first arrest not to go out late at night, his punishment is proper and should not be changed.
I credited Muschamp following his statement for acting swiftly on Morrison. But given what’s come to light since then, his response may have been premature.
Shortly after the suspension was announced, State Attorney Bill Cervone told The Sun he has concerns with the legality of the arrest. Morrison making a “woof-woof” sound at the canine may not be enough to constitute a crime, Cervone said, because there was no malicious intent, which is to commit a wrongful act — without just cause or reason — that will result in harm to another.
On Monday, Sheriff Sadie Darnell told The Sun that a warning to Morrison would have been more appropriate than detaining and arresting him for an obscure law that he was likely unaware of.
ASO also released the dashboard camera video of the arrest. An overwhelming majority of viewers felt the footage showed that deputies overreacted and were more out of line than Morrison. One deputy was even caught littering at the end of the tape.
It’s an embarrassing situation for all parties involved.
In the wake of all this, Muschamp now faces some difficult decisions moving forward. Fans are already calling for Morrison’s suspension to be reduced or lifted if his charges are dropped by the state.
Should that happen, I still think he deserves some sort of punishment for putting himself in that situation and giving law enforcement another opportunity to use their authority on him.
However, if Muschamp is going to come down on his players when they’re in the wrong, he should also have their back when they are not.
Morrison has been ridiculed by local and national writers, some of whom say he should get kicked off the team, for an arrest that now appears to be unlawful and unwarranted.
If his suspension gets shortened in any way, it’s going to be a PR nightmare for UF and the coach who said he’s “100 percent responsible” for his players’ off-field behavior.
But Muschamp can send a message to his team, recruits and their families that he will not tolerate his players getting mistreated by police and put on trial in the media.
Seven of the 14 players who have been arrested during his tenure have transferred or been dismissed. Two of those arrests were for underage drinking, and nine of those players signed with or committed to former coach Urban Meyer.
For the most part, Muschamp has taken a strong stance on discipline during his time in Gainesville. But if Morrison didn’t have a curfew prior to this weekend and was suspended simply because he got arrested again, Muschamp needs to stand up for him and acknowledge that he, like most people, passed judgement too soon.