Mississippi State’s decision to allow signee Jeffery Simmons to join its football team, and with only a slap on the wrist at that, is tough to swallow, and there’s one sentence in the 357-word statement announcing the decision that particularly gets stuck in your throat.
Simmons, a five-star defensive end who signed with the Bulldogs in February, was charged with misdemeanor simple assault and misdemeanor disturbing the peace after an incident during which a video showed him repeatedly striking a woman laying on the ground after breaking up a fight between that woman and his sister. It’s a disturbing video in any context in any era, but it is particularly jarring now when the issue of violence perpetrated by men against women is too prevalent in our society and in our state.
The incident occurred in March. Last week, Mississippi State announced that Simmons would be able to join the football team after being “evaluated by licensed professionals at the university’s Student Counseling Services” and serving a one-game suspension.
“It’s important that Jeffery and other potential MSU students understand that these type of actions and poor decisions are not acceptable,” Bulldogs athletics director Scott Stricklin says in a statement released by the school Thursday.
In fact, Mississippi State’s decision proves just the opposite – that Simmons’ action is completely acceptable and will continue to be tolerated as long as you have enough value to a football team. It’s the same lesson we all learned when the Dallas Cowboys signed Greg Hardy last season.
Stricklin was asked Thursday if the school would have reached the same conclusion if Simmons were a two-star prospect.
“I can’t answer that question,” he said.
The problem is, too many of us believe we know the answer to that question.
Mississippi State considered permanently banning Simmons from joining its football team, Stricklin said.
“Yeah, we had that conversation. I don’t know what that accomplishes,” he said.
What it accomplishes is exactly what Mississippi State, and by extension the SEC, failed to accomplish in this case – it makes it clear that the behavior actually is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated.
Mississippi State’s decision might have been different had school officials not believed that if they dropped Simmons on, say, a Tuesday, he’d be moving into the dorm at another SEC campus by Wednesday.
“I think that thought crosses your mind,” Stricklin said.
If the conference had a provision that barred participation in these situations, Mississippi State might have acted differently.
“It’s hard to answer that because we don’t have that rule, but you consider those things,” Stricklin said.
Stricklin was in communication with the conference office throughout his decision-making process, and described SEC officials as “comfortable” with Mississippi State’s resolution. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey backed away from that characterization like it was going to bite him.
“Awareness and comfort are two different things,” Sankey said. “I would not express comfort with a situation like that.”
The SEC office currently has no mechanism to dictate to schools which players they can accept on the grounds of conduct.
“This conference has been wrestling with the issue and it’s not easy,” Sankey said. “I hope people can appreciate that. It’s not as if this is done in a sterile environment. … There is an assumption it seems now that you flip a switch at the conference level and take care of it. That may not be the case.”
But it could be the case by this time next year, and it should be the case. Continuing to offer only lip service to this problem is what’s truly unacceptable.
Stricklin described the incident as “a parking lot fight that got out of control.”
“That doesn’t make it OK,” he said.
No, it doesn’t. Mississippi State’s inaction in the face of an opportunity to finally say it’s not OK is what makes it OK. Except that it’s not.
Not even close.