Unconditional love is an awesome thing. I have it for my wife and children. My mother has it for me. Any of you reading this knows who you have that feeling towards and who in turn has it for you. No matter what someone may do to hurt you or another person, you still love and support them. It's powerful in its scope sometimes. When it comes to sports, however, there is a bit of a disconnect when it comes to the word "unconditional." The Weslye Saunders case at South Carolina is a prime example of that fact.
Saunders, as you by now know, was dismissed from the USC football program Wednesday by Athletics Director Eric Hyman. A short and to the point statement was the only official notification we got from the university. The reaction to the news, however, has been very mixed in the last 24 hours or so.
Most fans and observers are in no way surprised to learn of the dismissal. This author actually called for Saunders to be kicked off the team before the season ever began, and the support I got was heavy. Some fans took issue with that stance though, and now that the news is official, they still seem to believe that Saunders got a raw deal. He didn't, and let me explain why.
Rabid fans of any team will always look at who they support differently than outside observers or even more objective supporters. No matter what, they'll put the team - and its individual members - ahead of everything else. In theory I have no problem with this, but in practice there are times when the garnet colored glasses need to come off.
Those who continue to blindly support Weslye say things like "He's just a college kid who made a mistake" or "the things he did weren't criminal acts, so let's not treat him that way." Naive feelings at best. As has been discussed before, Saunders history of putting himself first go back far longer than summer, or for that matter, winter of 2010, two times when he was suspended from the team for what can kindly be described as selfish acts.
In January, Coach Steve Spurrier put Saunders' reinstatement to a team vote, and his fellow players decided to let him come back. There was no such show of democracy this summer. Saunders had a good spring and came to training camp in what Spurrier called the best shape he'd seen him in at Carolina. Then the lying began. Saunders told his coaches he'd done nothing wrong in reference to his trip to South Florida and the subsequent NCAA investigation into the trip. Because of their trust in him (unconditional love perhaps) they believed him.
After arriving very late to a Saturday morning scrimmage at Williams-Brice Stadium, Saunders told the staff he was again being questioned by the NCAA. Because of their trust in him (unconditional love perhaps) they believed him. Then, when caught in a lie, Saunders LIED AGAIN. That sealed the deal with Spurrier.
Saunders was suspended and had not been a part of the team in any way since, and now of course he's done. He got what he deserved, but to hear a faction of Gamecock fans tell it, the punishment still doesn't fit the crime. I rarely read message boards, but I did yesterday. One string in particular struck me. It was apparently meant only for those who wanted to show support for, not condemnation of, Weslye. A few detractors posted on it anyway and were themselves condemned for not being "real fans."
Talk about a case of some fans not seeing the forest for the trees. Imagine that. One player repeatedly put himself ahead of his team during his career and ultimately got kicked off, and through the process may have gotten his ENTIRE PROGRAM in trouble with the NCAA, yet some feel he is the victim. That stuns me.
The real victims are the other members of the team who've done things the right way the whole time. The victims are the coaches who've doubled their collective efforts to bring in better citizens to play football for Carolina. The victims are the fans - all of them - who pour heart, soul and money into their support of Gamecock football. Weslye Saunders showed no regard for everyone else, yet some fans believe he still deserves the benefit of what little doubt may be left out there. Wow.
I have admittedly been very harsh in my criticism of Weslye. (For more of what I've said on this, just check the column on the right of this page) I have also made it clear that I wish him nothing but success in the future. He has immense football talent. He is a good student who comes from a good family. That said, he and he alone is responsible for the mess he is in.
The 2010 Gamecocks are a good team, and have started strongly without Weslye on the squad. As I've said before, a case of addition by subtraction is at work here and I don't believe this case has been a distraction, despite what some would have you believe. Fans want to see their team play hard and win. That's the bottom line.
If you're a fan who believes Weslye has done the wrong things and gotten what was deserved but wants to support him beyond his time in Columbia, have at it. You won't be alone. That is unconditional love.
However, if you're a fan who thinks Weslye got a raw deal, made some "mistakes" or is the victim of a broken system, wake up. Your unconditional love of your team has officially gotten in your way of seeing the truth, and that's not good for anybody, no matter how much love you have.