Note from a Wounded Duck – an Open Letter to Rob Mullens
Let me be clear. I am a Ducks fan.
Have been since I was a three-year-old in Salem, holding a basketball almost as big as I was. Have been since I played tennis and football for the South Eugene Fighting Axemen, the latter at venerable old Civic Stadium, within spitting distance of the new roundball palace that is Matt Knight Arena.
Have been since I played soccer for the U of O, back in the days when more people crowded into Hayward Field to watch a dual track meet than straggled into Autzen to watch a football game.
I’m telling you all this because I want you to understand I’m far from a fair weather fan. I’m a Webfoot for the long haul. Always have been. Always will be.
I’m also the father of three kids, two of them girls. And now, I’m delighted to be able to report, I’m the proud grandfather of two delightful granddaughters, ages seven and three – both of whom are already sporting Duck gear; both of them are already well aware that Marcus Mariota is vastly more important than the prime minister of Canada, even though neither of them has yet to set foot in the great state of Oregon.
So, it was with some considerable consternation – as a fan, a father, and a grandfather – that I received the news of the recent allegations of rape leveled against three Duck basketball players, and the subsequent dismissal of two-year starting shooting guard Damyean Dotson, former 4* guard Dominic Artis, and redshirt transfer Brandon Austin.
I know you’ll agree the Eugene police report, even taking into account the redactions, was shocking. Oregon basketball coach Dana Altman’s comment that the decision to dismiss the three was “in the best interest of the university and the best interest of the young men, and in the best interest of our program,” ranks as one of the biggest understatements of the year – so far. “There are four people whose lives have been greatly altered here,” he added. “I feel really bad for the victim and her family.”
But, of course, the impact of something like this ripples out far beyond those directly affected. What about the rest of the team? You and I know that, one way or another, Coach Altman and his staff, terrific senior guard Joseph Young and his teammates, will all be tarred by association with the three now-disgraced, now ex-Ducks.
Exciting newcomers such as Casey Benson, JaQuan Lyle, Jordan Bell, and Ray Kasongo and their families may have been worrying about, at some level, what they had walked into. Recruiting new basketball players to come to Eugene could have suddenly felt like one of the toughest jobs in the country.
Then there are the rest of us – you know, folks like me – who bleed yellow and green (or whatever color combo Nike comes up with on any given day) – who are left with a knot in our stomachs by what has transpired. And the Eugenians – and there are a lot of them – who worry that Oregon athletics have become so distanced from the lives of ordinary folks in the Emerald Empire, that loyalty is, in some cases, being displaced by annoyance, or worse, downright hostility.
I left my home state to see the wider world when I was 19, and have never moved back. But wherever I’ve gone, I’ve stayed connected with my roots through my visceral, life-long connection with Oregon athletics. I’ve listened to Duck games via shortwave radio, surrounded by AK-47-toting tribesmen on the slopes of Pakistan’s Nanga Parbat, at the western edge of the Himalayas.
I’ve listened to Ducks games through an iffy Internet connection from remote outposts in the Masai Mara, the faint silhouette of Mount Kenya floating in the distance. Last year I boated across nearly 100-mile-long Kootenay Lake in remote southeastern British Columbia – in the pitch dark – to make it home in time to catch a Ducks game – then boated back to camp and my bemused Canadian friends.
I’m not a lawyer, Rob, so I can’t even begin to comment on the legal implications of what’s gone down. But as a proud Oregon alumnus, a fiercely loyal fan, a father, and a grandfather, I commend everyone from University president Michael Gottfredson, to you, to Coach Altman, by using this opportunity to go the extra distance – to make it crystal clear, through your actions, as well as words, that there is zero tolerance for this kind of behavior among your student athletes.
And to ensure players know – and assure the rest of us – that the Oregon basketball program understands there are, in fact, some things that are bigger, that are more important than sports. That actions always carry with them consequences. And, that when Coach Altman refers to the Men of Oregon, listeners won’t roll their eyes and shake their heads in dismay.
I’m a Ducks fan, Rob. Always have been. Always will be.
Thank you —
Top photo Kevin Cline