(UPDATED) Enough Already LSU, Just Reinstate Jeremy Hill

LSU running back Jeremy Hill had his long-awaited dialogue with 19th Judicial District Court judge Bonnie Jackson today on the question of his probation after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor simple battery – namely, sucker-punching someone in the midst of a Tigerland bar fight in late April.

The judge admonished Hill for the “arrogance” he displayed on the video, particularly the way he could be seen laughing after throwing the punch. She told Hill that is why many people felt he should go to jail.

“Do you know most people saw?” Jackson asked Hill. “They saw arrogance in what you did.”

She told the LSU running back, people were saying he acted as if were above the law, “I’m Jeremy Hill and I can do whatever I want to do, ha-ha-ha.”

However, Jackson also told the 20-year-old Hill that understands young people make mistakes.

Hill said he was “terribly sorry” and that he “let my emotions get the best of me.” He stressed that he is now focused on church, his family, hanging around the “right type of people” and to help others in his community avoid the mistakes he has made.

 

Hill got an extension of his probation, which was supposed to conclude in January, plus an additional 40 hours of community service. Judge Mike Erwin, who actually handled the simple battery case – Jackson’s involvement comes out of the fact Hill was already on probation from a case she’d handled involving Hill (at the time a high school senior) being the recipient of oral sex from a high school freshman girl at Redemptorist – had sentenced him to 50 hours of community service and an extension of his probation. Hill is also under a 9:00 curfew order, though it’s waived for football-related activities. He went back before Jackson today to settle the question of what the effect of the more recent incident would be on his pre-existing probation.

As a result of this current incident, Hill has already agreed to pay for the victim’s medical bills and not to tell his side of the story to the media or on Facebook or Twitter. In exchange, the victim didn’t ask that Hill spend any time in jail.

Which means that there are no further legal entanglements preventing Hill, who was indefinitely suspended from the LSU team, from rejoining the fold. That decision is up to athletic director Joe Alleva and head football coach Les Miles. And undoubtedly you’re going to hear a bunch of bloviating and OffWithHisHead! pontifications from various quarters. We’ve already seen some of that. Surely we’ll see more.

I’ll say it: it’s time to put Jeremy Hill back on the roster.

He’s been suspended for three months because he sucker-punched a guy in the middle of a bar fight – and anybody who has seen a bar fight knows that there are never any angels in a bar fight. And his freedom is rather seriously impaired with a curfew; it’s hanging by a string in any event should he decide to engage in any more rambunctious behavior.

The kid has spent all summer long worried about whether he’d have a football career at LSU. If that doesn’t make an impression on him, I don’t know that a two-game suspension will. And anything more than a two-game suspension is ridiculous for a misdemeanor simple battery; nobody kicks somebody off a team for one punch. You can’t watch an hour of network television without seeing at least one punch thrown, and more often than not that punch is thrown by a good guy. Let’s face it, the offense is a rather minor one; no, you shouldn’t sucker-punch anybody, even in a bar fight, but given that no real harm has been done and Hill paid the victim’s medical expenses the howling about what Hill did is overblown.

The Gregg Doyels and Eric Adelsons of the world can scream OffWithHisHead! all they want. They have zero stake in the Jeremy Hill story, other than to come up with a take that maximizes the amount of traffic at CBS and Yahoo! Neither one of them care about the victim Hill hit, or Hill, or Miles, or LSU or really even about college football. It’s questionable whether they really care about the “decency” both pay such homage to in their bloviations about how destructive Hill is to the integrity of the game. Pay attention to enough of Doyel’s writings and commentary and you can tell where his moral center is – he’s your classic faux-intellectual mainstream media type, who thinks he has to come up with an original take on subjects which are painfully simple. When you spend a column attacking Tim Tebow’s religiosity as “exclusionary,” then your opinion on Jeremy Hill’s bar fights is no longer interesting.

We all know Hill’s career is going to lead him out of Baton Rouge by next spring anyway. He’ll be three years out of high school by then, making him eligible for the NFL Draft, and these days given the wear and tear being an NFL running back imposes on the human body the smart thing to do is to go pro as quickly as possible so as to maximize the amount of pay one can earn before one can’t do it at a high level anymore. So he’s gone after this season, and he’s likely to sign with an NFL club at a discount, because his conduct has made him a character risk and NFL teams are more and more averse to those risks nowadays. Which means that there are actual consequences to what Hill has done.

And if Miles suspends Hill for anything less than the rest of his LSU career the media blowhards who can’t even give Tim Tebow credit for his impeccable comportment and example as a role model without making him “controversial” will trash him as running an out-of-control program – and why? Because once a year there’s an LSU player or two who gets in some form of legal trouble which is pretty minor compared to what else goes on in society – over the last three years we’ve had two bar fights and the inhaling of marijuana that two of our past three presidents have admitted to doing themselves. Doyel was calling Urban Meyer the greatest coach in college football when the latter was at Florida supervising a program that generated 30 arrests in six years; now he’s assaulting Miles over essentially one disciplinary issue per year.

By the way, Google Gregg Doyel and “Alabama arrests.” Maybe you’ll have better luck than I did finding something that gasbag wrote in expressing outrage for the 16 Crimson Tide players who have been arrested since January.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that Miles should tell the Gregg Doyels of the world to do something anatomically impossible. To kick Jeremy Hill off the team for one punch in a bar fight is totally disproportionate, and to do it is also to unduly punish the rest of LSU’s roster by degrading the team they play on.

Left tackle La’el Collins, who was Hill’s teammate in high school as well as at LSU, is in his NFL money year. If Hill is gone and Collins has one less excellent running back to block for this year, is that fair to Collins? He’s never done anything to publicly shame himself; Miles should punish Collins to make Gregg Doyel happy?

How ridiculous.

Ever been in a bar at some port-of-call when a Navy ship is in town? The Navy doesn’t suspend people from a tour of duty for throwing one punch in a bar fight, and sailors generally get in far more interesting bar fights than the one Hill was in. Somebody has to work fire control, or watch a radar screen, or perform the other jobs they need done on those ships.

Look, I don’t have much of a brief for Jeremy Hill. People I’ve talked to who know him say he’s actually a fairly nice kid and not the monster he’s been made out to be, and that the off-the-field stuff he’s now known for represents a pair of anomalies that, taken separately, aren’t really all that remarkable. There is a shocking dearth of opprobrium thrown Bill Clinton’s way for being on the receiving end of the same treatment Hill spent a year in career limbo for – and while Monica Lewinsky wasn’t a freshman in high school for the president of the United States to obtain oral sex from an intern is, I’d argue, an identical abuse of power to what Hill committed as the superstar jock high school senior getting a Lewinsky from an eager freshman girl. And a bar fight is a bar fight; college football players being involved in bar fights is no more uncommon than drunken sailors being involved in bar fights.

To be involved in both those incidents, I’ll agree, is indicative of bad character on Hill’s part. Maybe he’s a good kid his defenders say he is, but I don’t make such assumptions. I think he’s a problem and I won’t particularly miss him when he’s gone.

A two-game suspension, or a one-game suspension, are meaningless. Miles won’t get any mileage out of those in sending a message to his team. The fact is, Hill’s suspension to date and the coaching staff’s ironclad edict to the team that the players were to clear out of the campus bars for the offseason already accomplished the lesson Miles needed to impose discipline following the sucker punch incident.

Put the kid back on the team, accept the fact that he’s not a particularly nice guy, tell him he’s got one more strike and he’s done, give the bloviating sports columnists the finger and let’s see if Hill can redeem himself with an incident-free sophomore year.

It’s been three months, everybody thinks Hill is a dirtbag, he’s lost a ton of money in future earnings potential and the haters are gonna hate. Enough already. Let’s just play ball.

UPDATE: It appears Miles agrees, at least in part…

LSU coach Les Miles reinstated suspended running back Jeremy Hill early Monday evening, with the decision coming hours after Hill dodged a legal bullet when the judge who put him on probation in 2012 for committing a sex crime refused to revoke that probation and jail him.

Prosecutors said jail time for Hill would have been appropriate in light of his guilty plea last month to punching a fellow student outside a Tigerland bar in April.

Hill will return to practice, but Miles said there will be “further punishment,” which he did not detail.

“I’m going to kind of review, and make a quality call as best I can,” Miles said.

The decision by Miles ends a three-month exile for Hill, who pleaded guilty to simple battery last month but faced up to six months in jail stemming from the 2012 case where he pleaded guilty as a high school senior to carnal knowledge of a minor.

Miles said Hill, 20, met with his team and told them “this is what you do and this is what you don’t do.” The meeting took place at 2:15 p.m., and Hill returned to an afternoon practice session.

“There was some interplay and conversation, and they voted to invite him back,” Miles said. “He owes this school, this team and this community his best behavior.

Now, just because Hill has returned to practice it doesn’t mean he’s going to play against TCU, or UAB for that matter. He might well miss a couple of games. On the other hand, Jordan Jefferson played against Kentucky in 2011 a few days after his legal issues were resolved.

But he’s back, and he’s part of the roster. That means he’ll play this year.

And it means Miles will find himself on the business end of screeds by New York sportswriters. Which should cost him maybe 10 seconds of sleep.

UPDATE #2: Courtesy of TigerRoar.com, here’s Hill’s public apology from this afternoon…

The whole “continue to be a role model” thing is a little cringe-inducing, though it would be a bit uncharitable to take that line as much other than a piece of unintended irony. If Hill thought the sucker-punch was him being a role model he wouldn’t be apologizing for it.

UPDATE #3: And here was Les Miles commenting on the reinstatement, and saying something the bloviators can’t possibly understand – namely, that within the LSU program where Hill is seen for everything he does and not just one or two bad incidents, the folks involved don’t think he’s all that terrible a person…

That remark probably gets torn to pieces a good bit in the sports media, but there is a lot of humanity in it which deserves some appreciation and understanding.

Jeremy Hill isn’t just some kid who got into a bar fight and threw a punch he shouldn’t have, and he’s not just some kid who can rip off long touchdown runs. He’s a human being. A flawed one, to be sure. But there is more to him and how to discipline him than “run him off, he’s a thug” or “keep him around, he’s a star tailback.” Miles and the people who know him best actually recognize there’s a person inside that helmet, who has actual qualities – some good, some maybe not so good – and potential to be developed. Not just on the field; maybe Miles thinks Hill can learn from this incident and control himself better.

Too much of what passes for analysis of situations like this never gets any further than “football player gets in trouble, therefore football player is thug” and “coach who must decide fate of football player is weighing how much he can help coach’s team versus PR hit of lenient treatment.” That’s shallow, drunk-at-the-end-of-the-bar level analysis. If Miles’ teammates who’ve had to answer three months of questions about how out of control their program is thanks to Hill’s bar fight voted unanimously to keep him around, it says something. And that something isn’t that those teammates are all thugs as well, or that they believe in situational ethics. Perhaps they believe that there’s a way to punish and remediate bad behavior short of excommunication or the gas chamber.

We should be OK with giving people a shot at redemption. That spirit isn’t inconsistent with law and order, nor is it “soft” on rulebreaking. Miles is making the best call he can, with a lot more information than any of the screamers on the internet have. We’ll know if it was the right one based on Hill’s future behavior.

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