Yesterday, we learned that coach Tommy Amaker is still undecided as to whether Daniel Horton, who on Monday pleaded guilty to assaulting his girlfriend, will play in Sunday’s home game against Indiana. When I heard this, one simple thought sprang readily to my mind: Are you kidding?
There are those who say that Horton has already paid for his crime — he pled guilty, saving both himself and his girlfriend from the emotional tumult that they would surely undergo if the case were taken to trial. He has already missed seven games because of the suspension he received when the news of his charges broke, and he couldn’t even travel or practice with the Wolverines. His story has been blown up in every paper in the area.
And besides, what he did doesn’t really have anything to do with basketball, right?
Not quite. Last season, the NCAA lifted self-inflicted sanctions off Michigan, making the Wolverines eligible for post-season tournament action. And just like that, it wiped clean the program’s previously messy slate. Redemption was finally a possibility.
Although domestic abuse won’t get the team slapped with more sanctions, condoning it doesn’t do much for the clean image that coach Tommy Amaker has worked hard to construct during his nearly four-year tenure in Ann Arbor.
One of the most prominent and pertinent examples of the “good-guys” edifice that Amaker has created runs in the Daily on a fairly regular basis. Amaker appears in an advertisement for the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center that declares, “Take a stand against sexual violence at U-M.” And there’s Amaker, second from the left, with his hands on his hips, looking very stern indeed. Obviously, he means business — if it’s convenient.
I understand that “pushing” your girlfriend, as Horton claimed he did, is not quite the same as sexually assaulting someone. But domestic or relationship violence and sexual assault are inextricably and inarguably linked. And there is no “just” in this type of situation — choking is as bad as pushing is as bad as … you get the idea. It’s all a big deal because violating trust in romantic relationships by physically hurting a partner is always a big deal.
Should the ad be reworded to say, “Take a stand as long as the perpetrator isn’t your best shot at making it to the NIT or moving past the first round of the Big Ten Tournament?”
The only way that Amaker is taking any kind of stand is if “stand” has suddenly come to mean “standing idly by.” But I’m pretty sure that’s not what SAPAC had in mind.
This is not the first instance when Amaker has overlooked a player’s poor judgment by letting him back on the team. Two seasons ago, standout Bernard Robinson Jr. pled guilty to two accounts of misdemeanor assault and battery for allegedly fondling a female student in a West Quad stairwell. After he pled guilty, he was back in action on the court.
The fact of the matter is that Horton has a problem. No matter how furious you are at someone else — especially someone who likely has little chance to legitimately physically defend herself against you — you should be able to control yourself enough to keep your hands off of her. Abuse is not a normal response.
And according to police reports, Horton’s behavior was at least somewhat chronic. His girlfriend had called the police on multiple occasions when her situation with him was getting out of hand.
I am not saying that Horton should necessarily be thrown in jail, or that he should never be allowed back on the team. I realize that he is an excellent basketball player, and that it is possible that, career-wise, his future may lie in the sport. But this period, when he has publicly admitted his guilt, should be one of reflection and counseling. He should focus on his conscience and behavior — not be the focus of NCAA-highlight reels and opposing teams’ scouting reports.
He has already missed 13 games this season, and his team is on a nine-game losing streak. The only way the season will be salvageable for Horton is if he saves basketball for next fall and takes care of his personal life.
And as for Amaker — who is typically a class act and a role model not only for players, but also for the University community — please be more than just a face for SAPAC. Your team depends on you for guidance on and off the court, and I do not think that condoning assault is congruent with your beliefs, or the image you want to project. If Horton takes the time to get help now, it is less likely that there will be a repeat of a similar incident. It would also set a more positive precedent in regard to assault than the one that is currently in place — one that doesn’t hold students responsible for their transgressions and rewards them for pleading guilty, as was the case with both Horton and Robinson.
Or at least he should think twice before “standing” for SAPAC next year.
Megan Kolodgy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.