It was a change of tone on Twitter.
Rarely in the past year has a search for "Tom Crean" returned positive feedback on the site. They critique his in-game strategy, his perceived lack of an ability to recruit a big man, his pants. After an Indiana loss? Fire up the hot take machine for some of the most vitriolic 140-character quips one could find anywhere.
"Good for Tom Crean for taking back control of the program."
"It's a privilege to play at Indiana. These boys don't belong here."
"These kids are selfish. It's about the name on the front of the jersey."
And most commonly:
"These kids just don't understand what it means to wear the candy stripes."
This isn't about wanting what's best for a young man. Or even instilling values. Or teaching a lesson by way of failure. It's simply a fan's way of saying you are making my school, and therefore me, look bad. It's a self-serving, sanctimonious narrative that was pulled out of the ass of a Do Things The Right Way sportswriter so many years ago -- and that same take is now regurgitated over and over again every time one of these issues arise.
"You don't deserve to play at this school! This is a privilege!"
The easiest way to deal with the death of a young man's dream is to speak in platitudes, dropping one's self in this sanctimonious utopia completely disconnected from reality. In a profession that so much prides itself on the growth of men, dismissal can often be the easy way out. Devin Davis, a kid that has been through more in the last few months than most of you or myself could ever imagine, is now cast off without a rudder. Did Davis play a role in ending up in such shape in the first place? From the police report, that seems very possible. But something seems amiss about casting a kid who suffered a traumatic brain injury a few months earlier out to sea for wanting to smoke some bud in the days after classes ended.
Granted, the line has to be drawn somewhere. Not all crimes and acts should be weighed equally. Making the defense for Hanner Perea seems to be more difficult. An OWI charge is a different animal -- it's putting the lives of others in danger. If Perea was placed on a zero tolerance policy after his choice to get behind the while and drive, fine. You really wouldn't have heard too much complaining from this direction if Perea had been cast off after making that choice. Sexual assault or violence against a woman? Get lost. Illegal gun charges? Nope. Selling large quantities of drugs? You do you, but not here. This is hardly a case for lawless anarchy, where players should be allowed to run amok and accumulate rap sheets without repercussion.
But in Devin Davis' case, as best we know, this wasn't about violence against women. Or guns. Or selling drugs. Or even getting behind the wheel of a car after too many drinks.
This is about the use of drugs and alcohol among college students. And Tom Crean might be deviating from his players-first, family nature in caving to public pressure and casting Davis off from the program.
So much of the discourse surrounding the use of drugs and alcohol by college students has been, and will continue to be, generational. Older individuals and traditionalists that grew up with straight-and-narrow leaders such as Bob Knight see no place for it in college athletics. Millennials see many of the athletes as fellow students -- some as friends -- that enjoy the same things they do. It can be relatable. Hey, look, there's Player X over there taking shots at Greek Lettered House! He's just like us! It's fully accepted, even cool, for players to be piss-drunk or high-as-hell on a college campus. The traditionalists will see this as just a bunch of immature kids. To the younger fans, it's just a bunch of out-of-touch old folks complaining about booze and weed. These camps are irreconcilable and the debate can rage on forever about the way it should be on twitter. Both positions have merit, but neither one enough to change the other's mind.
Ultimately, the discussion of the way it should be is immaterial -- because college kids, athletes included, are going to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana. It's been that way for years, and it will continue to be going forward. I say that as a recent former male NCAA athlete and one that's been around plenty of individuals that play Division I basketball and football. Based on the incredibly flawed NCAA self-report study alone, 1 in 4 NCAA male athletes smoke marijuana. Sure, you can make the argument that it's over-inflated by golfers or soccer player or lacrosse bros. So there's this. In 2013, 20% of NCAA college basketball players smoked marijuana. 71% drank booze. Here's the thing about those NCAA surveys: there's zero incentive for a player to report accurately. Mark down all zero-usage? No problems. Report honestly? What if coach accidently sees my sheet? That means, despite all that, 1 in 5 guys were so comfortable with marijuana use they quantified it on a sheet given to their athletic department.
Knowing that it's going to happen, coaches have to alter their approach to dealing with drugs and alcohol on a college campus. Prohibition didn't work for the United States, and it doesn't work for college athletic programs. If you can't meet the players in the middle, they often won't give a damn for your regulations at al. You have to preach being smart. Education over prohibition. Put in a 48 or 72 hour rule. Put in a drink limit. Give your kids your number to call you if they've ever had too much to drink. Don't smoke during the season. Explain your reasons for why these rules exist -- you play better not hungover, if you fail a drug test at nationals the team will be disqualified, etc. For the majority of these athletes that use marijuana or alcohol, it's never a problem to adhere to these limits. The ones that don't want to will get out -- likely because their heart isn't really in the sport. Ask for this commitment, and you'll likely get rid of those don't want to be there.
The problem lies with the kids that truly want to be on the basketball floor, but just can't help themselves. Individuals that are possibly battling addiction or other demons from within -- where the structure of college athletics might be the only thing saving them from a dark turn. This is a scenario I've seen far too many times with athletes, with some I consider friends. An individual chooses to self-medicate for stress, anxiety, depression, or physical ailments, is dismissed from a program, and then things quickly snowball. They drop out of school, not to return. If anxiety or depression is a trigger, those feelings grow. From there, a young man's life can be so severely unraveled that it's hard to pick the pieces back up and ever achieve what could've been. This is when it comes not a hard lesson learned, but life thrown away for the sake of saving a basketball program's face.
Was this the case for Devin Davis? I haven't any idea. But for a kid that's been through so much over the course of the last year, I hope with every ounce of my soul that he lands on his feet and the hard lesson learned narrative survives. But as this story continues to be dissected and discussed, keep in mind that your first thought shouldn't be 'good for Tom Crean, good for Indiana.'
There are no winners in this story. Because Devin Davis has been thrust into a serious crossroads just a few months after nearly losing his life. And I'm just not so sure he deserves to be placed there.