Keeping Score: Moving pieces

Published: 5/29/2020 4:45:05 PM

Good morning, again!
Not a lot of heavy hitters applied to take Jon Thompson’s lacrosse job after he was fired by Amherst College President Biddy Martin.

They looked at his 125-47 record, his coach of the year honors, his master’s degree in sports psychology and his place in Brown University’s record books and thought, why bother? If a man with this sort of background can’t satisfy college president Biddy Martin, then why bother?

Thompson was fired in March after an alleged racial incident in an Amherst dorm that involved four players. According to the student newspaper, three white players were “chanting the ‘n-word’” outside a black player’s dorm room. The reporter, Shawna Chen, described it as a “hate incident” that “provoked” the player to come out fighting.

It’s an ongoing narrative about a coach who couldn’t rein in his reprobates, and others are worried about Amherst’s new age policy of diversity cleansing.

“Anti-Semitic and racist incidents back-to-back a season apart puts pressure on a school to act,” said Robert Condlin, whose son Christopher co-captained the 2003 Lord Jeffs (as they were called). “Thompson was a little tone deaf on this. Racism and anti-Semitism are the two principal cancers of the times.”

Condlin’s remarks are based on a false premise, according to someone close to the school. “Jon is a stand-up guy, a character guy,” said one of his colleagues. “He’s the sort who would be brought into a situation like this and would straighten it out.”

Indeed, the primary accelerants of this blowup were Chen’s factually inaccurate account and the incendiary front page headline. According to two sources, the player told the campus cops it wasn’t a racist event. The ‘n-word’ was used, but not in a direct or confrontational manner. The night was long, the beer was flowing, the team had lost to Tufts and the player’s girlfriend wanted everyone to shut up. Everyone was cranky. One thing led to another and two teammates got into it.

The next morning, the same two teammates and two others had breakfast together. “These boys were friends,” said a parent of a player who wasn’t involved.

That was the end of the story until three days later when The Amherst Student reported: Men’s Lacrosse Members Involved in Racist Incident. Other media outlets picked it up without fact checking, and thus began the character assassination of coach Jon Thompson and the Amherst College men’s lacrosse team.

Thompson was axed and the players (what’s left of them) were ordered to re-education boot camp.

NEW GUY ON CAMPUS

Rashad Devoe is making his seventh coaching stop in 10 years, most recently as head coach at Hampton (Va.) University. During a recent YouTube interview, the 45-year-old native of upstate New York was asked when he picked up his first lacrosse stick. “I was a basketball guy,” he replied.

Devoe posted on Twitter that he’s a “Video Game Junkie, Disney Enthusiast and Boxer Rescuer.”

He has a bachelor’s degree in physiology and nutrition at the University of Buffalo and a master’s degree in public health at West Chester State. He was the strength and conditioning coach of the Rochester Knighthawks box lacrosse team from 1996-98, but his next lacrosse job wasn’t until 2009 when he was an assistant coach at Jesuit College Prep School of Dallas.

Hampton University is a historically black university on the Virginia coast. Mo’ne Davis, the first girl to pitch and win a Little League World Series game, attends Hampton. Jim Brown’s son Aris committed to play lacrosse for the Pirates next season.

Intercollegiate lacrosse began in 2016 and Devoe was hired last summer to replace outgoing coach Lloyd Carter. “It’s a tremendous honor to be coach at Hampton,” Devoe said on YouTube. “I can’t wait to see the smiles and celebrations when they win their first Division 1 game. This is a great place to be and in a few years it’ll be great place on the lacrosse landscape.”

The Pirates were 6-5 last season but couldn’t compete on the Division I level this season. Before the COVID outbreak they were 0-6 and had been outscored 125-34. The silver lining was Aris Brown, whom Devoe had recruited. “We are elated to welcome the Brown family to their home by the sea,” he said.

The three others who interviewed for the Amherst job were Ohio Northern University coach Nat St. Laurent, former Navy coach Rick Sowell, and Ohio State offensive coordinator Dylan Sheridan.

Sowell took three different teams to the NCAA tournament (Dartmouth, Stony Brook and Navy) and St. Laurent founded Ohio Northern’s lacrosse program four years ago and has guided the Polar Bears to a 44-22 record. One insider says both were offered the job but declined.

Sheridan, who is white, was the players’ choice, according to an insider. Under his tutelage the Buckeyes were 17th in goals this season (Hampton was 74th and last). He’d coached at Cleveland State and was an assistant coach at Princeton and Denver. In 2014, he coached the Thailand National Team to four wins at the World Championships.

“If you were looking for the best coach, it doesn’t even come close,” said one insider, referring to Sheridan. “The team did a poll and it was a landslide.”

Devoe might not know what he’s gotten himself into. The Amherst experience under Biddy Martin has been an ideological utopia for some and a dystopian reality for others. At Amherst, it seems, it’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game.

“They have to get rid of her, period,” said Steve Kramer, Class of ’75. “Otherwise it becomes Hampshire College redux.”

Marty Tirrell remains a free man, thanks to the nationwide COVID-19 outbreak. The Greenfield native and radio talk show host is charged with defrauding a local man out of $4,570 in Red Sox tickets. He was arraigned on March 13 and the continuance was moved from May 7 to July 9.

The larceny charge is small potatoes compared to federal charges in Iowa. On December 4, Tirrell reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors. He pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud in exchange for having nine other counts ranging from check kiting to filing false fraud claims dropped.

He was scheduled to be sentenced on April 7 in Des Moines, but by then the virus had closed the courts. “There is not a date set at this time due to COVID-19,” said Rachel Scherle, Asst. U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. Asked if he could possibly skate free on the charges, Scherle replied, “No. He will serve time.”  

Tampa Bay southpaw Blake Snell spent seven years in the minors, pitching in places like Durham, N.C., and Montgomery, Alabama. The year he won the Cy Young Award, he was paid the major league minimum of $558,200. No wonder he’d rather not pitch if it means another year of being low-balled.

“Y’all gotta understand for me to take a pay cut is not happening because the risk is through the roof,” Snell said earlier this month.

Snell hired super agent Scott Boras to help him get his just due. “I gotta get my money. I’m not playing unless I get mine. That’s just the way it is with me.”

Boras will likely have his client sit until next year when he’s due to make $11 million, and he’s not alone. According to the N.Y. Post’s Ken Davidoff, under MLB’s sliding scale proposal, Mike Trout’s salary would be reduced from $38.5 million to $8.66 million this season, and both Manny Machado and David Price (remember him?) will go from making $32 million to $7.2 million.

Baseball has always had a money problem. Call it greed, whatever, but the clock is ticking. The best case scenario would be seven-inning doubleheaders from now till December. It would give us a way to enjoy our quarantines. 

■■■■ 

The Indianapolis Colts took UMass cornerback Isaiah Rodgers with their sixth pick (211th overall) in last month’s draft. The last play of Rodgers’ college career was against BYU at McGuirk Stadium. He fielded a punt, turned right, slipped on the turf and was drilled in the back by a Cougars player. Paramedics got him onto a stretcher and took him to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. His mother rode in the ambulance’s passenger seat.

Rodgers is completely recovered, reportedly running 4.3-second 40s in his hometown Tampa. “I’m a Colt. I’m ready,” he told the Colts’ website.

He’s the third UMass player in three years to be drafted. Wideout Tajae Sharpe has 92 catches and eight touchdowns in three years with the Titans, and just signed with the Vikings in the offseason, while Andy Isabella had nine catches and one touchdown last season for the Cardinals.

SQUIBBERS: Former Oakland, Houston and Mets manager Art Howe was released after five days in a Houston hospital with COVID-19. “Relief, back in my own bedroom,” Howe told a Houston TV station. “It’s just sweet.” … Former Philly righthander Dan Straily signed a one-year deal worth $800,000 to pitch for the Lotte Giants in South Korea. When Straily leans in for the sign, he sees cardboard cutouts of baseball fans wearing facemasks. “I’m just grateful and blessed to be playing baseball right now,” he told ESPN’s Eduardo Perez. … Korea’s plan to allow fans into stadiums beginning June 1 was delayed after 79 new cases were reported, the largest daily outbreak since April 5, according to aljazeera.com.  … Tua Tagovailoa’s game jersey — aqua color with No. 1 embroidered on the back — is the NFL’s top seller. Tua used part of his $19.5 million signing bonus to buy his mother a Cadillac Escalade for Mother’s Day. … Spotted a black Dodge Charger in New Hampshire recently, jet black with N.H. plates that said HIOFCER. ….  Jack Nicklaus, asked how he missed a two-foot putt: “The same way you do.” … Happy birthday to my grandson Carter Greene, seven years old today and already a master tree fort builder.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.


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