Zay Jackson Video Places Enormous Pressure on Murray State to Boot Him From the ProgramPosted by Chris Johnson on October 16th, 2012
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
When Murray State guard Zay Jackson was sentenced to 30 days of jail time after pleading guilty to two charges of wanton endangerment, there was no immediate indication Jackson had seen his final days in a Racers uniform. In fact, MSU athletic director Allen Ward confirmed Friday that Jackson would remain “part of the team this year” after serving his punishment, saying that the senior guard had learned from his mistake, recalibrated his off-court demeanor, and would be welcomed back on campus with open arms. On Monday, after WPSD Local 6 News went public with surveillance footage of Jackson’s parking lot incident, that forgiving posture reached its breaking point. A word of caution: The course of events – the most jarring of which involves Jackson using his white Monte Carlo as a vehicular wrecking ball – are extremely disturbing, and should be viewed with discretion. Details of the confrontation emerged in the wake of Jackson’s initial arraignment, more than a month before Monday’s video release. Alia Clement, one of the victims of Jackson’s wheelside rage, called it “the scariest day I’ve had in my entire life.” According to Clement, the perilous chain of action began when she called out Jackson for pushing a shopping cart into a nearby vehicle. Tensions escalated when Jackson threatened her husband, Jason, who tried to photograph Jackson’s license plate to report his malfeasance. The heated back-and-forth escalated quickly and culminated with Jackson flooring his vehicle right through the Clements.
Nothing has changed with respect to Jackson’s legal status or his length of punishment. He is still slated to finish out a month-long sentence, at which point he will be free to return to campus and, presumably, re-join the men’s basketball team. That was the impression Ward gave after Friday’s sentencing. Several days later, it’s reasonable to think his posture has changed. What once could be shielded by a veil of misinformed public perception (it wasn’t until Monday that everyone found out what really happened) has been spun into a national saga of repulsion and disbelief. Now that the lurid details of Jackson’s heinous act have gone viral, the classification – playing Grand Theft Auto in Walmart parking lots is “wanton endangerment?” Really? – and severity of punishment have been thrown into sharp public scrutiny. From a law enforcement standpoint, unless some other credible details related to Jackson’s actions emerge, his punishment cannot be altered ex post facto on the basis of video evidence. Jackson has been charged and sentenced. Case closed. But Murray State is well within its rights to ramp up Jackson’s punishment on its side of the equation. At this point, it’s almost mandatory.
If Jackson is allowed to re-join the Racers after completing his sentence, it will serve as a negative flashpoint for MSU’s standards of conduct, a case study on the Racers’ lax enforcement procedures and misplaced priorities. Ward would be sending a horrible message – not just for the basketball program, but for the university at large and the image being projected out to the larger NCAA community. In the backdrop of the recent Dez Wells’ expulsion, which stemmed from an allegation (much less a proven crime), Jackson’s incident demands a harsh response. Besides, I’m not sure Racers fans would stand for such a lenient approach. Jackson has created a negative light so damning that even his strongest support group – the fan base that reveled in the Racers meteoric rise last season harbors immense optimism for another strong campaign in 2012 and knows the value of having Jackson in the lineup alongside preseason All-America Isaiah Canaan – may never see him the same way again. Winning (and doing so frequently) is the common denominator at the heart of every program’s set of season goals. But that underlying incentive takes a backseat in extreme circumstances. When players – no matter how valuable to a team’s winning aspirations – endanger not only themselves, but the public, with inconsiderate and willfully nefarious actions that show a complete apathy for human well-being, serious disciplinary measures are in order. Jackson’s incident most definitely qualifies.
Before Monday’s video reveal, Ward’s supportive stance seemed admirable. Jackson had violated the law, began serving his sentence and embarked on a presumed path toward introspection and penitence. Surely, Jackson had learned his lesson, and could be trusted to return to the program. Now Ward is in a position where he can’t afford to endorse Jackson’s return to the basketball program. Giving Jackson a second chance, extending a lifeline to a student-athlete who showed such blatant disregard for human life, is an untenable course of action. School administrators can’t possibly defend the prospect of having Jackson’s now tattered reputation represent Murray State in athletic reputation. It would spark a public relations nightmare of unimaginable proportions. Perhaps Jackson is capable of correcting his faults and proceeding in the future with proper decorum, and perhaps Ward believes he can help guide Jackson down a path of humbling attrition to a better mental state. It’s just that Murray State simply can’t afford to stand pat and embrace a student-athlete whose actions (as this fan pithily states in the first comment of the comment section) have prompted veritable claims of murderous intent. It’s mighty difficult to foresee this ending in any other way than with Jackson’s dismissal from the program. In most cases, I have a hard time endorsing this sort of unconditional punishment. Here, as Jackson’s delinquent behavior is being streamed on hoops fans’ laptops across the nation, this situation calls for a decisive outcome.