Commentary

Could one punch change football?

Originally Published: September 9, 2009
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Nearly a week has passed since Oregon's LeGarrette Blount used his gloved right fist as a numbing agent for Byron Hout's jaw. Blount didn't know it, but in the terrifying few moments it took for the sucker punch to drop Boise State's Hout to the blue artificial turf, his major-college playing career was finished.

[+] EnlargeLeGarrette Blount
AP Photo/Greg Wahl-StephensLeGarrette Blount at a happier time, after Oregon's victory last season vs. Oregon St.

The punkification of college football continues, and it won't end with Blount's right cross. This time, it was a taunt and small shove by Hout that triggered the punch. Next time -- and there will be a next time -- it could be even worse.

Sportsmanship isn't dead in Football Bowl Subdivision programs, but it's on a respirator. I covered the Minnesota-Syracuse game Saturday, then watched large chunks of the Charleston Southern-Florida, BYU-Oklahoma and Alabama-Virginia Tech games. On Monday night I watched the Miami-Florida State game. You know how many times I noticed a player helping an opposing player off the ground?

Zero.

Meanwhile, I would have needed a separate iPhone app to count all the times I saw a defensive player straddle and then walk over an opposing player after a tackle. And isn't it great when, say, a cornerback knocks down a pass, then struts like a rooster?

Hout, who was as much an accomplice as a victim in Thursday's postgame episode, is lucky he's not sipping his supper through a straw these days. And Blount is fortunate he didn't need a lawyer and a bail bondsman. Instead, Oregon suspended Blount for the remainder of his senior season but let him keep his scholarship. If and when he returns (he made a cameo appearance at practice on Tuesday in street clothes), he will be relegated to the scout team.

Blount is no longer listed on Oregon's depth chart. The athletic department's Web site still has him listed on the Ducks' roster, but that's nothing more than a courtesy. Or maybe an oversight.

Blount began his senior year as a consensus second- or third-team preseason All-American, as well as a candidate for the Doak Walker Award. His season ended after eight carries for a net of minus-5 yards, two catches for a combined 13 yards and one completed fist to the jaw. His life is forever altered.

The video of Hout's taunt and Blount's blindside punch ought to be required viewing for every high school and college player in the country. But don't show just the punch. Show that Oregon depth chart, the one that no longer includes Blount's name. Show the national outrage. Pull a Blount and pound home a point: Actions have consequences.

The Oregon and Boise State players shook hands before Thursday's game. Blount was one of those players. But the whole idea of pregame handshakes moments before kickoff is borderline stupid.

The American Football Coaches Association, which pushed for the pregame handshakes in the season openers, should have known better. Players are hypergeeked in the minutes leading up to kickoff. And now you want them to meet at midfield and act nice?

Oklahoma State coach Mike "I'm a man!" Gundy, the famed ranter, took a pass on the gesture. So his team didn't shake hands with Georgia's players Saturday. I have no problem with that. I mean, isn't that what team captains are for -- calling the coin toss and shaking hands?

Gundy feared the possibility of a pregame melee. Sad, but true. That's where we are these days: one spark away from a football wildfire.

Blount's thug moment is now part of his résumé. He apologized after the game. He later apologized to Hout. He since has sought the advice of former NBA player Kermit Washington, whose punch to the face of Rudy Tomjanovich still shadows him almost 32 years later. Actions. Consequences.

[+] Enlarge2006 FIU vs. Miami
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesThe Miami-Florida International was another major black eye for college football.

So much lost in a moment of anger. Now Blount's reputation is in rehab. It could take months, even years before it recovers.

Blount deserved the suspension, but he is a product of a college football culture that celebrates trash-talking, indifference to sportsmanship and the "Hey-look-at-me-I-made-a-tackle" mentality. And if it doesn't celebrate it, it at least accepts it.

Former college and NFL linebacker Brian Bosworth wrote a book about being a football punk. Made the best-seller list. The University of Miami, circa 1991 Cotton Bowl, turned unsportsmanship into an art form. And who can forget when Ohio State linebacker Robert Reynolds choked Wisconsin quarterback Jim Sorgi in 2003, or the 2004 brawl between South Carolina and Clemson players or the 2006 Florida International-Miami brawl (with former Hurricanes wide receiver Lamar Thomas in the broadcast booth endorsing the fight)?

Some coaches are as bad or worse. Gundy went ballistic after a game. Tennessee's Lane Kiffin falsely accused Florida's Urban Meyer of cheating. Hawaii's Greg McMackin used a homophobic slur to describe a Notre Dame pregame ritual. So the stupidity isn't limited to the players.

Football is like no other sport. It is built around the simple idea of imposing your will on the other team -- through schemes, through execution, through mind games, but most of all through physical strength. But, more and more, the college cocktail mix includes trash-talking, preening for the TV cameras and taunting.

A pregame handshake deters none of this. It is as effective as trying to cut your lawn with a nail clipper. It is a gesture, not a solution.

Oregon's solution was swift, humane and measured: transplant Blount from the Ducks' starting lineup to no lineup at all. A college football career ends, but maybe a new kind of Blount begins.

For Blount's sake, we root for him. And for college football's sake, we hope a sucker punch made more than the TV highlights. We hope it made a difference.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter