Nick Saban says he was afraid in the moments after Tennessee’s victory over Alabama, and Saban said Jermaine Burton was afraid, too.
That seems to be the logic Saban used when he made the decision to play Burton in Alabama’s 30-6 win over Mississippi State rather than suspending his receiver for hitting a Tennessee fan. A video clip surfaced after Alabama’s 52-49 loss to Burton Tennessee reaching out and communicating with a fan in the wild moments immediately following the game.
Related: Everything Saban said after Alabama beat Mississippi
Related: Rewind Alabama beat Mississippi State
Should Burton have been suspended for hitting a fan? Should he be kicked off the team for hitting a woman? Those were fair questions after Saban said earlier this week that Alabama was gathering more information about what happened. Let’s not underestimate any of this because it was a dangerous situation that required critical attention.
Obviously, this should go without saying, but hitting a woman cannot be excused. Burton was wrong in what he did. a period.
After looking into the matter, Saban said he made the decision not to suspend Burton, but to advise his player. As for Burton’s situation in play, he started against Mississippi State and contributed to Saturday night’s blast victory.
Here’s everything Saban had to say when I asked him after the game against Mississippi State what happened with Burton’s playing decision.
“Look, I don’t know how many of you have been through such a situation, but I spoke to him,” said Saban. “He was afraid. I was afraid. Some of our other players were afraid. I think you learn to respect others because we have a responsibility to do that regardless of the circumstances we are in.
“And I talked to the guy. We have him in the counseling program. It’s not the anger management program that people announced today. Nobody said that before. That’s not the problem. That’s not the issue.”
“But it’s about proper respect for others. And I didn’t think it was necessary to comment the guy. So, if you knew the whole story, you probably wouldn’t either, but I wouldn’t say it.”
This didn’t matter to me, and Saban leaves out important information for reasons that are hard to understand.
Part of me appreciates Saban standing by his player during this unfortunate situation and bearing the brunt of the criticism, but that doesn’t mean Saban made the right connection here playing Burton or even allowing him to stay on scholarship with the team. It’s fair to question Saban’s decision on this matter, and remember this moment. A certain level of discipline seems to be appropriate, or even justified, for Burton’s actions.
Forgot something here?
Apparently, yes, according to Saban, but then said he wouldn’t provide an explanation for what it could have been. Saban is a great coach, and I respect him, but he has never been questioned because he played a player who shocked a fan a week ago, and was not criticized for his evasive answer about something very important.
You have shrugged off the standard rhetoric from talk this week of Alabama slipping competitively, but the decision to play Burton requires a closer look.
Does it benefit Alabama to play Burton? yes. Will Saban gain a level of trust from recruits to support the player even under these controversial circumstances? potentially.
Saban opened himself to these questions with his decision.
There is another way to look at this as well. For team building, does Burton Alabama support create better team harmony? Saban said the players were afraid.
freaked out? Afraid of what exactly? Fans rush into the stadium, or is it something else? It was a mess after Tennessee beat Alabama, and so I can understand a certain level of fear in those moments.
When asked about the decision to play Burton, Saban’s tone was oddly condescending, considering the circumstances. Of course, it was appropriate and necessary to ask about the decision. This is a big problem, but questions remain.
The video wasn’t clear enough to see exactly what happened, but it was a disturbing series of frames nonetheless. Did Burton slap the woman, as someone claimed to be a fan? It’s hard to tell from the amateur video filmed from the stands of Neyland Stadium, but it was sure enough connection to question how Alabama handled the controversy.
Saban’s answer misses the point.
Counseling is vital, and it is good for Alabama to have those valuable resources for its players. It also has the best coach in college football history, but for a lot of people that would mean something different after today.
Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group and author of We Want Bama: A Season of Hope and the Making of Nick Saban’s Ultimate Team. You can find it on Twitter Tweet embed.
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