Considering the Huskies' reasons for showing Venoy Overton compassion
Coach Lorenzo Romar and athletic director Scott Woodward didn't wait until charges were filed in Venoy Overton case. They've been working on a plan daily to deal with the situation for the past two months.
Seattle Times staff columnist
UW vs. WSU, Pac-10 tournament @ Staples Center, Los Angeles, 8:30 p.m., FSN
It has been a daily Venoyance.
Venoy Overton's nickname was once reserved to describe his defensive persistence on the basketball court, but over the past two months, it has taken on a more comprehensive meaning. Every day, Washington athletic director Scott Woodward and men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar have discussed Overton, his legal problems stemming from an early January encounter with two 16-year-old girls, his punishment, his progress in making amends and their mutual desire to continue to teach and rehabilitate the player.
They didn't block out the issue all of this time and wait nervously to see whether a charge would be filed. This was a constant concern that they took seriously, though they handled it privately. This was a headache that both thoughtful men didn't dare try to alleviate.
"It's been difficult on everyone," Woodward said Wednesday morning, a day after Overton was charged with furnishing alcohol to the 16-year-old girls in an embarrassing incident that included lurid details of sexual acts with two teenagers. "But the most important reaction is not to react and extract a pound of flesh. The key thing, for us, was to correct and teach going forward. We weren't motivated to try to win a press conference."
I called Woodward to get some closure on this controversy. I've offered my opinion, and my thoughts have only gotten stronger with more time to reflect. But sometimes, it's important to let the other side speak. In doing so, I haven't changed my core belief — that Overton should've been suspended Tuesday for what's left of the season — but I've gained a deeper understanding of why Romar decided to ban Overton from only the Pac-10 tournament. For the record, his boss fully supports that level of punishment.
"Coach has taken positive, rehabilitative and punitive action throughout this time," Woodward said. "We take these matters seriously. We hope this incident will wake up our student-athletes and remind them to make good choices. Ninety-nine percent of them are doing the right thing. Occasionally, college kids make mistakes and make the wrong decisions, but in most instances, we hope we can give them a second chance if they show they're deserving of one and turn their mistakes into a teachable moment."
Woodward and Romar are well-intentioned men with good integrity, and even though I disagree with them, it's a respectful dispute. It's not easy to do, but it is possible to kick a player off a team, remain connected to him, let him continue to hang around the program and keep him on scholarship with the stipulation that the player must adhere to certain rehabilitative guidelines.
The best coaches view themselves almost like parents, and Romar is certainly among that group. He feels the pressure to win basketball games, but he is also fueled by other objectives. He's been a father figure for a lot of athletes who were raised by single mothers. He has helped kids from the street smooth their rough edges, and he has inspired silver-spoon kids just the same. His track record shows his heart is perpetually in rhythm with what he deems right.
But he's the leader of a high-profile program that essentially serves as an advertisement for a public university. Protecting the school's image must come first, even above winning. Overton's situation presents a complex conflict.
It's admirable that Romar is standing by Overton, even though it would've been easier to cut ties. To be certain, Romar needs his sixth man to have the best chance to advance in the NCAA tournament. But he once benched starters Will Conroy and Bobby Jones for a rules violation during the 2004 NCAA tournament. And that was his first Huskies tournament team. Now, he practically has a lifetime contract. If Romar wasn't afraid to lose a game to do what he considers right, he definitely shouldn't have any fears now.
Overton is fortunate that forgiveness and loyalty, great human qualities, matter to Romar. It might be a leadership flaw, but Romar has a heart. And he doesn't have to apologize for that. But perhaps that's why the world's most feared leaders tend to be heartless.
Moving forward, Woodward says his athletic department will apply lessons learned from the Overton case. He doesn't feel an immediate need for the Huskies to change any of their policies or methods relating to how they teach athletes about proper conduct. But at the end of every year, he mentally audits the good and the bad and makes tweaks when necessary.
"You always make adjustments," Woodward says. "This is an organic process for us. I don't think one incident is cause for alarm. But we'll remember this going forward."
The men's basketball program won't be under any extra scrutiny. Artem Wallace's 2007 arrest for a hit-and-run accident is the only other time that a player has been arrested or charged under Romar's watch.
"I don't see it as chronic or a pattern of behavior," Woodward says.
And with that, we move on.
Woodward, Romar and the Huskies won't get to do that completely because Overton has more rehabilitation left, as well as an initial court date on April 1. His legal battle is just getting started.
But at this time of year, the games go on, they take on mythical importance, and every chance to play again is a blessing.
This is especially true for Overton, and it has nothing to do with March Madness. He should feel lucky he plays for a coach and an athletic director who believe in compassion, even when they might've been better off extracting that pound of flesh.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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