We're guilty of trial by YouTube

The Orlando SentinelNovember 5, 2009 

BRACE YOURSELF FOR what I am about to write:

Brandon Spikes is a victim.

A victim of the tweeting and Twittering times we live in.

A victim of YouTube.

This might sound strange considering Spikes, the star linebacker for the No. 1-ranked Florida Gators, did something very naughty on the football field Saturday when he stuffed his hand inside a helmet and gouged at the face of Georgia running back Washaun Ealey.

Nothing was said about the incident during the national TV broadcast of the game. There were nearly 500 media members there and none of us saw it or asked Spikes, Ealey, Florida coach Urban Meyer or Georgia coach Mark Richt about it after the game.

But on Sunday when the video of the incident became a YouTube sensation, there was a national outcry and Meyer was forced to respond by suspending Spikes for the first half of this week's game against, ahem, Vanderbilt. (Question: Would he have only been suspended for the first quarter if this were LSU week?)

No, I'm not laughing off this incident or condoning what Spikes did. He was wrong and he deserved punishment. But, as former Florida State wide receiver Peter Warrick once said after an illegal shopping spree at Dillard's, "It's not like I shot the president."

Even Ealey disagreed with Spikes being punished. "I don't think he should have gotten suspended at all," Ealey said. "He was out there playing football and having fun."

I don't know about that, but I do think it's a shame Spikes, a player who has never been in any trouble with the law and unselfishly decided to postpone a lucrative NFL career to come back for his senior season at UF, is now being portrayed as the poster child for classlessness in college football.

I'm as guilty as anyone. As I broke down the YouTube video like it was the Zapruder Film, I, too, was appalled when I saw Spikes jam his prodding paw inside Ealey's facemask at the bottom of a pile. But the more I think about it, the more I believe YouTube has turned us all into a bunch of hysterical, heckling hypocrites.

Take one of my favorite radio and TV commentators - ESPN's Mike Golic, who has been one of Spikes' biggest critics this week. Yes, the same Mike Golic who played defensive tackle in the NFL and admitted to USA Today a few years ago that "anything goes" in a pileup and that he once tried to choke another player who was laying on top of one of his teammates.

"I reached down and I started choking the guy; I just started squeezing," Golic told USA Today. "I was just, as we like to say, getting his attention."

I don't really blame Golic's sanctimonious stance because back in his pre-YouTube playing days these types of incidents were considered admirable by manly sports fans. My stepfather, a huge Dick Butkus fan, proudly told me a story once about how another player accused the legendary Butkus of biting him in a pileup. Butkus scoffed at the accusation and told the player (according to my stepfather), "If I had bitten you, you wouldn't have any fingers left."

Can you imagine if YouTube caught Butkus biting somebody today? We would be repulsed (but only after clicking on it 100 times). And Butkus would be castigated by the NFL for being dirty, not celebrated for being tough.

"In the old days in the pros, that was just part of the way you tackled," UCF Coach George O'Leary said. "You got extra (credit) for it."

That doesn't make it right in today's world, but let's not be naive. Anybody who plays the game now will tell you such shenanigans are still commonplace.

"It's part of football," UCF linebacker Jordan Richards says. "Sometimes you get caught; sometimes you don't."

Spikes did get caught and he's being punished. Some are saying Meyer's half-game suspension is too light and proves he's lax on discipline. I disagree. I'm actually pleasantly surprised Meyer levied any public penalty. Most coaches would have "handled it internally" and then done nothing.

Of course, that's difficult to do when you coach the No. 1 team and everything you do is blown up to scandalous proportions. Your quarterback suffers a common concussion and it's portrayed as the very first head injury in the history of football. Your linebacker pinches somebody in a pileup and suddenly he is transformed into Hannibal Lecter in shoulder pads.

These days, it's not so much what you do; it's whether it's been posted on YouTube.

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