VOL. 131 | NO. 141 | Friday, July 15, 2016
The Press Box
Eventually, MSU’s Mullen May Take the Hit
By Don Wade
HOOVER, Ala. – After recent events, it’s good to remember that not everyone is a sell-out.
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen defended the decision to accept five-star freshman defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons onto the team after a video surfaced that showed Simmons hitting a woman on the ground.
(Cal Sport Media via AP Images)
“I’ve always had a rule as a coach that, if you ever hit a girl, you’re finished,” Steve Spurrier said at SEC Media Days here last year when still a working head coach. “We’ve lost two at South Carolina.”
Spurrier has since retired. And apparently, the notion that there is no acceptable excuse for hitting a girl has been retired, too.
Or at least it has at Mississippi State, where coach Dan Mullen, athletics director Scott Stricklin and school president Mark Keenum have chosen Jeffery Simmons’ sizable talent over decency.
Simmons, a five-star defensive lineman, was allowed to enroll at MSU this summer even though a few months ago he was seen on a video repeatedly striking a woman as she lay on the ground.
Had this been a recruiting tape, no doubt Mullen would have praised the player’s persistence. But because this was a tape that Mullen would have rather not seen – rather no one had ever seen – he mentioned that the first time he saw it, from the angle he saw it, he didn’t think there was much there.
Suffice to say, the other angles were not so forgiving.
Still, Mullen and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey went with the second-chance approach when speaking to media. They even used the same words, saying that they didn’t believe it fair to determine the rest of a young man’s life on 10 seconds of video.
Only problem with that premise: Nowhere is it written that playing big-time college football is an inalienable right. It’s more like driving a car, a privilege that has to be earned by meeting certain minimum standards.
This decision from MSU, and Sankey’s willingness to publicly back it, does a tricky tango with hypocrisy just based on the league’s own rules. Recently, the SEC adopted legislation that prevents SEC schools from accepting transfer students with histories of domestic violence.
So Simmons slides into the MSU football program on a technicality; he’s a freshman, not a transfer.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, when asked if the league needed a blanket rule banning players with domestic violence issues, said: “Domestic violence is something we don’t touch. That’s just our approach.”
So if MSU had not enrolled Simmons, he would not have surfaced at Auburn. But let’s not be naïve. He is a 6-foot-4, 310-pound package of enormous potential. He could become an All-SEC caliber player. He could become an NFL draft pick.
Had MSU not accepted him, he likely would have shown up somewhere else in the SEC.
That said, the tolerance level is finally changing. Baylor’s football program has been rocked by a sexual assault scandal and coach Art Briles wasn’t able to survive it. Tennessee just settled a $2.48 million lawsuit that involved allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of football players.
Mullen says MSU did a “very, very thorough investigation” into the Simmons incident, which appeared to start as a fight between two women.
“We felt that Jeffery deserved an opportunity to be part of our family,” Mullen said. “Now we move forward in helping educate and develop a young man to become successful in his life.”
And that would be a noble endeavor if not attached to Jeffery Simmons pulling down quarterbacks for the benefit of Dan Mullen. But it is.
“I’m responsible for the actions for every one of my players,” Mullen said, which was supposed to make everyone feel better.
Except that, no, he can’t and shouldn’t be considered responsible for every action of every player. Not unless he can become invisible or time travel.
But Mullen and his bosses are taking a huge chance because they are responsible for one thing: Simmons being on the Mississippi State football team despite what they can see on that video.
A very big man hitting a girl.