I'm finding it difficult to get real worked up over Peter Warrick's felony grand theft charge for paying $21.40 for $412.38 worth of clothes. With Warrick set to be suspended for a second game Saturday, it surely will start another round of moralizing. Far from ready to take the pulpit, I'm conflicted.
On one hand, it was a really stupid thing to do. Warrick is 21, but from all indications he's a very sophisticated kid. This is his fifth year at Florida State. He knows to the letter what he can, and cannot, do regarding perks while on an athletic scholarship. With a little restraint, all he had to do was mind his P's and Q's for about eight more weeks, keep playing his fanny off and pick up the Heisman Trophy at the end of the year, which probably would be worth millions of bucks. But the sense of entitlement that seems to cloud the judgment of virtually every great athlete from the time he turns 12 probably led Warrick to think he could get away with something. His decision to be slick means he has sabotaged his senior season for about $390.
On the other hand, we're talking about a kid with virtually no means who was offered a deal and said yes. How many of us while in college, even those with means, turned down anything free? Tell me that at age 21, prohibited from having a job by NCAA scholarship rules, you would have told the clerk at the register, "Naw, I'd rather pay full price." Please. I know grown men who have been making six-figure salaries for 15 years who won't buy something unless it is discounted. Golf clubs, cars, suits, dinners.
So this is a felony?
Here's what Peter Warrick is really guilty of: trading on his celebrity. This culture, increasingly and preposterously, worships celebrity. If you're famous, you don't have to pay full freight, you don't have to stand in line, you can get a preferred table even when the restaurant is supposed to be full. I have a friend, a noted celebrity journalist, who won't play golf unless it's for nothing. And since a round of golf for four at a nice public course can easily cost $100 per person, I guess he's committing a felony if this happens in Florida, huh? Tell me the difference. The most important letters in America now are VIP.
Another thing: If $400 is the magic number that separates felony from misdemeanor, and since Warrick's loot in this caper (which also involved former teammate Laveranues Coles) came to just more than $200, according to the store and the police, how is that a felony? When did $200 become $400?
I found myself angrier over Warrick's defense than his trying to get something for next-to-nothing. You know what it was? "It's not like I killed the president." He should be suspended for arrogance. But the notion that his discount at the register should brand him as some kind of criminal for life is stupid and unfair beyond words.
I get worked up over some of the offenses committed by college athletes that should have been punished with great severity, such as automatic expulsion and jail time. I got worked up over Lawrence Phillips dragging a woman down a flight of stairs by her hair. And over another Nebraska football player, Christian Peter, who pleaded no contest to a sexual assault charge. And over a Miami Hurricanes football player, Jammi German, who pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor battery charge in connection with an incident involving a track and field athlete. And over Coles, who was booted from the Seminoles football team not because he was in this incident with Warrick but because last year he was charged for hitting his stepmother.
It's amazing that some junk from Tommy Hilfiger is valued more highly in today's society than a woman.
I don't have any problem with Warrick being suspended. Florida State University rules call for it, first of all; any time an athlete is charged with a felony, he or she is suspended until the case is resolved. Even if Coach Bobby Bowden wanted to sit him down for a longer period of time, fine.
Speaking of Bowden, how instructive is it that Bowden said last week, "When something happens like this week, you just sit there pleading for a misdemeanor--and I usually don't find myself pleading for misdemeanors."? I'm fascinated by Bowden's use of the phrase "When something like this happens" and "usually." I mean, how commonplace has players behaving badly become at Florida State that Bowden has a routine now concerning their battles with the law?
The fact that this stuff happens so frequently is obscene. But so is the fact that everybody is making money off college sports except the people producing the action on the fields and courts. On one hand, we say college athletes these days are sophisticated enough to know exactly what to do (or not do) and exactly what is expected of them. But that same sophistication leads them to feel resentful. Didn't Bowden just sign a new deal to stay at Florida State until he's into his seventies for about $1.5 million a year?
Money changes hands all the time in college sports. Everybody gets a cut, every VIP is getting a discount, a perk, some special consideration. Let's not expect sophistication one minute and total naivete the next.
Warrick indisputably did something wrong. Just how severely wrong is something we might want to debate with a little fuller context.