Upon commencement of fall football camp Monday, Steve Sarkisian said that the 2013 Washington Huskies will be the best in his five seasons. After three consecutive 7-6 outcomes, I would expect so. Regression — with a newly renovated stadium about to twinkle from the lakeshore and nine losses in a row to the Oregon Ducks — is not an option.
So my guess is that Austin Seferian-Jenkins will suffer no more for the indiscretion that put his face into the windshield, his car in the ditch and his tight-end self in jail for night for a DUI.
Sarkisian didn’t say he would suspend perhaps his best player; he never speaks publicly of punishments, he said. But he didn’t leave a lot of doubt that he felt time had been served.
“I’ve made a decision. I know what we’re going to do — we’re going to keep it internal,” he said. “I will say this: I’ve been impressed with both these guys. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do. They impressed me in the mature fashion they’ve handled it.”
“These guys” refers to Seferian-Jenkins and a teammate, Kasen Williams, who was busted for underage drinking in a car at Lake Chelan and paid a $695 fine. That was in May. Seferian-Jenkins’s wreck in Ravenna was in March. So Williams obviously didn’t quite get the lesson.
“We keep all of our disciplinary actions internal,” Sarkisian said. “I go to sleep at night feeling good about what we’re doing. These guys will be at practice today. This has nothing to do with gamesmanship. This is how we deal with all of our disciplinary actions on this team.
“I’ve never once disclosed to you guys who’s starting or not starting, (or) guys who aren’t playing, from a disciplinary standpoint. I’ve not told you how many community service hours our players have done, or how many gassers they’ve done, or how many times they’ve had to get up and meet me early in the morning.”
For most violations of team rules, Sarkisian and most coaches don’t air their dirty laundry for all the obvious reasons. Only after he dispatches repeat violators, such as sophomore defensive end Pio Vatuvei, who was kicked off the team July 30 for unspecified misbehavior, is there a public acknowledgement.
Seferian-Jenkins not only broke team rules, he broke laws, and put himself and others in jeopardy. To his credit, he changed his plea from not guilty to guilty, paid his fine and served the mandatory minimum day in jail for misdemeanor first-time offenders. Then again, to anyone who read the police report of the incident, he would have looked silly fighting it.
The question is whether Sarkisian felt obliged to make a statement with a game suspension about how seriously his football program views the issue of DUIs. The growing community resentment about the dangers prompted the state Legislature to agree to toughen DUI laws, a rare feat for a body riven by political inertia.
So I asked Sarkisian if he felt obliged to make a statement with Seferian-Jenkins. He didn’t, and delivered a passionate explanation.
“No, I don’t,” he said. “Austin is not going to punished for everybody else’s crimes. He’s being punished for what he did on an individual basis. I’m not a lawmaker, I don’t pretend to be; that’s for people smarter than me. My job is to develop a young man I care deeply about, who’s a good kid who’s made an honest mistake, and has dealt with it.
“It’s a very serious deal. Our team has taken it seriously. I think it has hit home immensely. Am I aware of what’s going on in our community? Heck yeah, I am. I grieve for those families who’ve lost loved ones. I urge our state to be proactive in dealing with laws that deal with DUIs. But Austin will be dealt with for his incident and not what others have done.”
Sarkisian was clearly ready for the question, and he defined his answer sufficiently narrowly that it made sense.
But the point of a suspension now isn’t about Seferian-Jenkins’ mistake relative to others. That is the function of law: To create fairness. The point of a suspension would be to help curb what others may do. Such as his own players, and by extension other young people who feel as invulnerable and oblivious as Seferian-Jenkins did that night.
As the Williams episode establishes, Seferian-Jenkins’ predicament made no dent in his teammates’ behavior. It is hard to take Sarkisian seriously when he says Seferian-Jenkins’ problem “has hit home immensely.” Dubious at best. And it isn’t because the Huskies are worse, or better, than a random selection of 105 of their contemporaries.
But it is because Seferian-Jenkins and the Huskies program have such a high profile, and because young people are paying attention, that a sacrifice consequential to the group — playing a game or two without Seferian-Jenkins — shows something greater than winning football games is going on at Montlake. As Sarkisian said: Developing young men.
But as was mentioned above, regression is not an option for the Huskies. They’re already behind in the stadium-remodel business — if you go by the Ducks’ new football facility that leads the world in mahogany, marble, barber shops and spas — and they don’t want to be down 0-2 to Boise State, the opponent in the season opener Aug. 31.
Maybe Sarkisian will surprise. We won’t know likely until kickoff. Meanwhile, I offer the wisdom offered me by a reader in a tweet that followed my previous column on the topic:
“As a Husky fan, I don’t want him suspended. As a father, I do.”