The Vest and Other Coverups

red sweater vestThe Ohio State University Head Football Coach Jim Tressel resigned on Memorial Day. To add insult to injury, I had to hear it from a Michigan graduate! (She wasn’t gloating, just sharing and as shocked as I was.) Speechless, I went to Twitter. I scrolled until I saw Brutus Buckeye had tweeted a video from Gene Smith, the Assoc. VP and AD at OSU. I watched it. And again. I scoured the Internet for followup, fall out, feedback.

At first I was angry. And so where my fellow Buckeyes on Facebook and Twitter. We were in full rant mode. Don’t nobody talk bad about Coach Tressel. GRRR! We were FIRED UP! Mad at the NCAA, who has such ridiculous rules that are never enforced evenly. At Ohio State for being slack about making sure things were in order (especially after our ordeal with He Who Shall Not Be Named in 2003) and at the players whose selfishness led to this entire situation. In my mind, everyone was to blame–except “The Vest” as Jim Rome loves to call him.

And then I realized, just as my father did when his staunch belief that John Edwards wasn’t the typical, slimy politician was tanked with a stealth bomb, that Jim Tressel simply was not who I thought he was.

Yes, the NCAA, and colleges and universities support of it, and the sports TV networks are all complicit in this lie we continue to perpetuate about “amateur” sports. And yes, the prima donnas we’ve raised called athletes are part of the problem. However, Tressel’s fall from Buckeye and national grace, was his own fault. His attempt to cover up the misdeeds, his lying about that attempt, that was all him. No matter how broken the system, Tressel owns his actions and response to the situation.

Appearances are deceiving

It’s trite that saying, but true. Tressel stood on the sidelines dressed in his collared shirt, tie and trademark sweater vest looking like an upstanding, preppy citizen. He wrote and spoke about doing the right things, leadership and the like. He looked straight out of central casting as a 1950s dad with all the answers. He appeared to be a great family man, highly intelligent and he was winning. Now I realize Tressel may as well have worn the same outfit as another of my favorite coaches, Bill Belichick, whom some like to call Belicheat. Jim Rome likes to call him “the Hoodie” because of his penchant to roam the sidelines in raggedy, cut-off sleeved, hooded sweatshirts. He looks like a slob or a thug, take your pick. But no one mistakes him for anything but a head coach who would do anything to win.

We’re taught to base opinions on appearances in this society. And often that leads us to put emphasis on window dressing rather than substance. Hence some of my issue with dress codes. Because, as we’ve seen, a guy in a suit and tie can be unethical, unmoral, and criminal. Likewise a guy in his jeans and polo can be intelligent, a hard worker, or a better person. Yet, we still think that suit and tie, clean cut guy would not rob or rape us. A bunch of them did on Wall Street and in Congress not to long ago.

I personally believe…

Tressel was the one coach I would always say was the only one I could count on to never participate in the shenanigans that go on in college athletics. When bad stories broke about other coaches and athletes, I held fast to that conviction. I don’t know him, never met him, but somehow that confident man in the cozy sweater vest on the sidelines convinced me that no matter what rumors swirled, this guy was one of the good ones.

I finally realized my anger stemmed from my disillusionment as detail after detail (and the threat of more to come) chipped away at this strongly held belief.  I felt duped. It was yet another reminder that sports, no matter what the level, really is win no matter what. And considering we’ve enjoyed quite a run beating MeatChicken since Tressel’s been at the helm, it’s even quadruply distressing that we might not be doing that as consistently for a while.

Tressel was certainly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

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