MORGANTOWN — So much for building character.
It’s hard to imagine, with as much emphasis West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown has placed on character building, community leadership, social justice that before his team could kick off its season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown had to suspend 11 players — three of them starters.
No reason was given for the suspension beyond violation of team rules.
None had to be.
These are the players who were suspended, just as WVU announced them more than an hour after it had once again leaked out of the athletic department:
T.J. Banks (TE/r-So.), Chase Behrndt (OL/r-Sr.), Zach Davis (OL/r-Sr.), Zack Dobson (WR/Jr.), Isaiah Esdale (WR/r-Jr.), JP Hadley (LS/r-So.), Mike O’Lauglin (TE/r-So.), T.J. Simmons (WR/r-Sr.), Tairiq Stewart (OL/Jr.), Junior Uzebu (OL/r-So.) and David Vincent-Okloli (CB/Fr.).
It is difficult to imagine that with all the team building, all the character building, all the effort to create character that Brown has committed to, that a group of players would let their teammates, their coaches, their university, their fans and their state down like that.
Certainly, it disappointed Neal Brown.
“It is disappointing. It is hard, because you spend so much time, you care about the kids — actually they are young men, not kids. They lose playing time, which hurts.”
The hurt goes both ways.
“Those are tough conversations that you have, when you look eyeball to eyeball and have to say ‘Look, you made a mistake.’”
Brown did not reveal what happened, but stressed it was non-COVID related.
“The thing I tried to hit on them was we were disappointed in some decisions they made that weren’t for the betterment. They paid the price. There will be no double-jeopardy with this. I told the team this ... it’s over and we’ll move forward with them being active participants. They’ll learn and they’ll be better.”
That was said emphatically, but when they slipped once, how can you really be sure.
The shame of it isn’t that they were college students doing what college students do. With all that is going on in the world, we need our role models to be above falling into such traps.
We’ll dealing with sickness and with social injustice and a movement against police brutality, so much wrong with the world in which we live that the athletes and the like must be above such things.
We’ve seen it all over the country, as college students have returned to schools, despite the dangers involved with not following guidelines, they have felt as most college kids do that they wear an S on their chest and a cape flowing down their back.
They need their athletes to show them the way — in fighting the pandemic that threatened to do away with the football season and in the way they conduct themselves.
It is difficult to imagine that members of the same team, prior to the game, in a show of solidarity and unity stood arms linked on the sideline, making a statement that had to be lessened some by the fact that some among them had broken rules and put a heavier burden on their teammates.
“It meant a lot to have my brothers with me linking arms in unity,” said defensive back Alonzo Addae, when asked about the symbolism of the moment.
Now the Mountaineers regroup, hopefully better for the experience. They have a week off, then play a key game in the season, opening the Big 12 schedule with a trip to Oklahoma State next week.
There isn’t much they can take from Saturday’s 56-10 victory over a badly outmanned Eastern Kentucky team other than a 1-0 start, but considering the circumstances surrounding the game and the fact that both Iowa State and Kansas State were upset by non-Power 5 teams, a win may just be enough to take out of it.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter@Robert Hertzel