The Auburn shootings in the early hours of June 10 are being reported on and debated in all corners. As what facts we have are dissected and commented upon, there are calls for unity in the spirit of empathy for the victims, as happened last year when Tuscaloosa was ripped apart by a tornado.
We should not, however, be quick to compare this incident to a weather occurrence, that – trailer park jokes aside – hit people of all races, classes and societal boundaries, without motivation or prejudice. This was not a random act of weather. It was an act of violence with motive.
It’s true that sports rivalries are insignificant in the face of this tragedy. Indeed, our hearts – and those of all Crimson Tide fans – go out to the families of the young men killed Sunday morning. Our prayers are that they can find peace in the days to come, and that those responsible are brought to justice.
But tragedy, and the resulting calls for unity shouldn’t drown out honest questions. By allowing our emotions and fear of giving or receiving offense to cloud our ability to think critically, it hinders the pursuit of the uncomfortable truth.
Auburn Police chief Tommy Dawson finally met with the media – after a fifteen-hour delay – to address the ongoing investigation. In his remarks he exercised an interesting bit of selective discretion, noting that in addition to armed fugitive Desmonte Leonard, the Auburn police department were looking for a pair of unnamed ‘persons of interest’ to come forward. Though he declined to give many details on the investigation, he did allow himself one bit of commentary:
The only connection that the Auburn football team has to this is that they are victims of a brutal shooting. Sometimes the young men get a bad rap, I feel like, but they are the victims today.
No one seems to be saying that Auburn University bears responsibility, outside of the overheated rhetoric on the message boards. But it’s at minimum odd that he would go out of his way to insist that though at least three current or former Auburn players were involved, it has no bearing on the case.
Montgomery Advertiser Auburn blogger Jay Tate has spoken with an anonymous witness to the shootings:
He saw approximately 7 Auburn football players at the event — along with a few of their close friends. He said the incident began when an unidentified football player made comments about the alleged gunman’s date for the party. The unidentified player didn’t back down when asked to do so.
The New York Times notes that these are trying times for Auburn’s athletic department:
In March, a Yahoo Sports report revealed that the FBI was investigating a former basketball player, Varez Ward, for shaving points during his college career. Auburn officials acknowledged that it had made a report to the F.B.I., but little has been said or reported on the case since.
Then in April, a former football player, Antonio Goodwin, was convicted of first-degree robbery. He was one of four men with ties to the Auburn football program who were arrested over the robbery, and the three others are said to face court dates soon. Mr. Goodwin’s trial included testimony that indicated guns and marijuana were part of the culture surrounding the Auburn football program.
Predictably, the Auburn fan base has come out against the article and author Pete Thamel, accusing him of an anti-Auburn bias. We have reached out to Thamel for comment.
This is not, despite what some think, evidence that Auburn football is an asylum run by the inmates. On the other hand, neither is it wholly without merit to ask questions about the culture surrounding the Auburn football program, the editorializing of the Auburn police chief to the contrary.
Fans close ranks and rally around the flag; that’s a luxury afforded fans of a particular sports team. Being a fan can allow emotion and loyalty to school colors and mascots to cloud all objectivity. Part of being a tribe is to ostracize any who dare speak out of step with the party line.
In the face of this senseless tragedy, it is vital that we disregard rivalries and gamesmanship – not only for the sake of those affected, but to be objective in the pursuit of the truth. Sports fans of all stripes should want this.
Auburn football is not a victim. Certain past and current members of the Auburn team are victims, as are their families. But Auburn football – like Alabama and all other teams – should be judged as always, by the actions of its representatives.