Lesson from Auburn: athletes aren't the issue

Lesson from Auburn: athletes aren't the issue

Published Jun. 20, 2012 8:11 p.m. ET

The tragic off-campus killing of two former football players and another man in Auburn, Ala., on June 9 left a community shocked. It also led to mountains of speculation and opinions about what a tough couple of years it has been for Auburn athletes. Some commentators went so far as to lump this tragedy in with the Cam Newton pay-for-play investigation and basketball player Varez Ward being investigated for point-shaving.

Never mind that the victims of the shooting were not engaged in illegal conduct of any kind.

They were at a pool party at a popular apartment complex on a Saturday afternoon, just like millions of other college-aged adults.   

This story is a full-fledged tragedy to be sure. But our need to find broader context or to take away some lesson from senseless violence often leads to speculative nonsense, which is almost certainly the case here.  

This shooting had nothing to do with these men being athletes. Nor does it say anything about the cultural state of modern college football.  If anything should be gleaned from this horrible event, it is to remind everyone how little trouble student-athletes get into across the board.  

Look at the statistics.

There were six murders, 52 rapes, 339 robberies and 351 assaults in South Bend, Ind., last year, and not one of those involved a Notre Dame football player.

Sure, you say, but South Bend is a notoriously bad area that just happens to house America's premier Catholic university.

OK, but East Lansing, Mich., is a lovely Midwestern town that had one murder, 16 rapes and 34 robberies last year. The number of those committed by student-athletes was still zero.  

LSU had a couple of kids suspended for allegedly smoking synthetic banned substances, and its quarterback, Jordon Jefferson, was engaged in a pre-season brawl at a bar called Shady's. But Baton Rouge had 2,486 violent crimes last year. With the lone exception of Jefferson, who was charged with a misdemeanor, none of those crimes involved athletes.  

Go down the list:

Tuscaloosa, Ala.: seven murders, 36 rapes, 197 robberies, 224 assaults. Student athletes charged in any of them: zero.  

Athens, Ga.: five murders, 30 rapes, 113 robberies. Student athletes involved: nada.

Columbia, S.C.: a whopping 16 murders, 74 rapes and 350 robberies. And not a single student-athlete was arrested, convicted or even questioned.  

This is not to imply that football and basketball players are pure as wind-driven snow. They, like all college kids, are young and out on their own for the first time in their lives.

There are parties and arguments and alcohol. Trash cans end up in swimming pools, street signs find themselves defaced, and there is the occasional iPhone that ends up in the bottom of a Port-a-Potty.

They're kids. It happens.  

Most are not criminals or even bad people. Compared with the general population — and certainly in relation to the crime statistics in college towns throughout the country — student-athletes are remarkably well behaved.
Tragically, sometimes they end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, saying the wrong thing to a thug with a gun.

That is what happened at Auburn. And that is why Ladarious Phillips, DeMario Pitts and Edward Christian are being memorialized.

There is something to be taken away from the Auburn tragedy, but it has nothing to do with the culture of modern college athletics.

We should thank our lucky stars that incidents like this are remarkably rare. And we should take solace in the fact that today's student-athletes are, by large majorities, the most upstanding men and women on any college campus.