Coaches at risk if Woods stumbles
I think it's fruitless to debate whether Rodney Woods is worthy of being recruited as a football player for the University of Oregon. I doubt that the bar has been set so high that people convicted of what turns out to be a misdemeanor have no place in a uniform.
We've seen it all before, countless times.
What makes this situation so interesting is the gamble the Oregon coaching staff has taken for someone it really doesn't know very well. It's a chance we'd often take with a family member Ñ but not necessarily with a stranger.
Woods, of course, is the defensive back who last week had a felony conviction in California reduced to a misdemeanor, enabling him to sign a letter of intent with the Ducks.
I don't think the mere recruitment of such a player would normally cause much uproar in today's world, where the word 'bad' has come to mean 'good' in some vernacular circles and the biggest heroes are often the worst people. In fact, some cynics might say that college football success is proportionate to how many assault charges are filed against a team's players.
What makes this case worthy of study is that coach Mike Bellotti and defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti wrote letters to the judge in advance of the ruling. They went on record in support of a young man who, at the time, had served prison time for felony assault.
Recruiting Woods after the charges were reduced to a misdemeanor is one thing. But actually playing a role in the process is another. These coaches may actually have had an impact on the verdict.
Do people deserve second chances? By all means. I've had my share of them. Deep down, I believe that Woods deserves another one. But I think Bellotti and Aliotti are now, like it or not, eternally invested in Woods' future.
I once wrote a letter to a judge, asking for clemency for a friend. I knew this person pretty well and thought it was my responsibility to speak up. My friend served time anyway, but he has been free for several years and has committed no crimes. Thank goodness.
But I still worry about it. I have an investment in that person on a permanent basis. I staked my credibility, reputation and judgment on the future character and behavior of my friend. Just as Bellotti and Aliotti have in Woods. If the defensive back Ñ who is by all accounts a 'difference maker' on the field Ñ gets beaten consistently for touchdowns, the coaches will look bad. But if Woods does anything off the field to violate his probation or bring dishonor to the university, he'll do more than just mess up his second chance. He will disgrace two coaches.
And then Bellotti and Aliotti won't look like compassionate men giving a youngster a second chance. They'll come off as careless people who put their need for better pass defense ahead of the integrity of their program.