SOAP BOX • Legal issues aside, there are moral considerations in the Rodney Woods case

Oregon football defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti seems confused.

He told Portland Tribune reporter Jason Vondersmith that he can't understand why recruit Rodney Woods, who last week became eligible for an Oregon football scholarship after a judge reduced his felony assault conviction to a misdemeanor, would 'even go to jail for seven months, for getting into a fistfight' (Defense chief answers critics, March 4).

'It's a moral issue,' he said.

Let's start with some basics. 'Fistfight' implies that the victim was fighting back. Woods pleaded no contest to assaulting a fellow high school student, who said Woods punched him, chased him down and continued to assault him after he questioned why two of Woods' football teammates were punching and kicking Christopher O'Leary, who died days later as a result.

Woods and his family, who are facing a wrongful death lawsuit filed by O'Leary's parents, say he never touched the teenager and played no role in his death. O'Leary's family and friends say that Woods instigated the fatal fight and that he did not participate in O'Leary's beating only because others held him back.

Aliotti backs the family's claim after conducting the university's due diligence investigation before recruiting Woods.

'(I)t's been proved, (Woods) had nothing to do with the death of the young man,' he told the Tribune.

The fact that a California judge allowed O'Leary's family to testify at Woods' hearing convincingly counters the coach's claim. Moreover, after O'Leary's family and friends stormed out of the courtroom, the judge admonished Woods that a moment's misjudgment can bring a lifetime of pain.

The judge's action and his words indicate that there is a moral, if not legal, connection. No matter how we feel about Rodney Woods' second chance, we should always take pause when there's an attempt to rewrite history in order to make actions more palatable.

Supporters who suggest that Oregon is offering Woods a scholarship because it's his only chance to pursue an education are spinning a nice tale. But make no mistake: Woods will be in Eugene Ñ with what would have been more than two years left of his original felony probation agreement Ñ to pursue his dream of playing big-time football.

When you boil down all the justifications, emotion, lawsuits and fact-spinning, there is one brightly gleaming nugget on which we can be certain: A man guilty of an assault that is inextricably linked to another man's brutal death received special consideration and attention from people in high places because he also is a talented athlete.

That's an incredibly irresponsible and sad statement for society, and especially a university, to endorse.

Pat Malach of Hillsboro is a former journalist and writer who currently is unemployed. He once edited the Daily Emerald, the student newspaper at the University of Oregon.

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