Picking Splinters: Gators Need Some Ethics 101

Anyone watching college football lately knows that the Florida Gators are the class of college football. Of course anyone watching this past Saturday’s game against Georgia knows that “class” was the last thing associated with Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes’ extracurricular actions.

In a video of game footage, Spikes can be clearly seen reaching inside the facemask of Georgia running back Washaun Ealey in an attempt to gouge Ealey’s eyes after he was brought down in a pile of players. The gouge wasn’t flagged on the field, but as the story caught the attention of the national media, Florida head coach Urban Meyer acted decisively, suspending Spikes … for the first half of the Vanderbilt game this Saturday.

There are a few things that you need to know to put this in perspective. The first thing is that such cheap shots are not uncommon when the gaze of the officials is blocked by a pile of bodies. Second, Georgia has a reputation for dirty play, leading the SEC with 74 penalties through eight games, and Meyer believed Spikes was retaliating for an earlier instance in which his helmet was torn from his head. Spikes also has since apologized. But the third, final and most important element essential to understanding this incident is this: Spikes tried to stick his fingers into another man’s skull.

You can give me all the contextual arguments you want about all the bad stuff that goes on in pig piles on the gridiron. This guy tried to insert his fingers into someone’s eye sockets. Not only is that very illegal by the rules of football, it’s like the one and only rule of cage fighting. Let’s keep that in mind as we move on. This wasn’t a charlie horse or a few jabs to the rib cage, this was a third-person reenactment of the climax to “Oedipus.”

You can probably tell how I feel about Meyer’s 30-minute suspension against a team that lost to Army earlier this year. It’s absurd and I’m not quite sure how Meyer can justify his decision to himself. No, Ealey was not injured, which is fortunate, but does that mean the penalty should be less severe? Should Spikes get off a little easier because he’s a bad eye-gouger? What sort of logic is that? What sort of lesson? Is the act okay because it occurred on a football field? Is there immunity for this behavior between the sidelines?

The NCAA would love to interject here that its athletes are more than just athletes; they’re student athletes. Well, let’s apply this incident in the context of a regular student then.

If a student attempted to gouge out another student’s eyes on the main quad while walking to, say, Ethics 101, I’m betting he’d be more heavily penalized than missing 30 minutes of his favorite activity. In fact, he would probably be brought up on assault charges and kicked out of school.

Even within the context of football Meyer’s punishment seems soft. The SEC recently announced that any coach caught criticizing officials would be subject to fines and suspension. Speak your mind about a missed call and you could be banished for a game or more. But attempt to blind someone (anyone else see the irony here?) and it’s a mere 30 minutes of football.

You’d think that the SEC would see the disparity there, but apparently not. The conference backed Florida’s suspension and said no further punishment would be handed down. Perhaps they spoke with Ealey, who Tuesday night said he didn’t believe Spikes should be suspended at all. His rationale was that this sort of stuff happens in football. That’s wrong. It has no place in football and it should not be tolerated.

No one seems to be seeing the big picture here. Ealey got lucky. He could have had serious damage done to his vision and that is the crux of the matter. The safety of student athletes should be paramount and it’s the collective responsibility of the school, the conference and NCAA to insure that.

I understand that scrums are part of the game, that pig piles happen every 30 seconds or so on Saturdays. You’re not going to catch every cheap shot. But this time, the cameras did, and it gave the sport’s governing bodies a chance to set a precedent. It’s a shame they all failed miserably.