The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel honored a convicted felon by nominating him to be its Boys Basketball Athlete of the Year.
Deontay Long, a Milwaukee Washington senior who pleaded guilty in January to being party to armed robbery, was one of eight nominees for the award, which was given to Whitnall High School's Tyler Herro during the Journal Sentinel Sports Awards on Monday night.
Long is serving a 12 month sentence in the Milwaukee House of Correction, which Milwaukee County Judge Pedro Colon will review after Long has served six months. Colon also sentenced Long to five years of probation.
After pleading guilty to a Class C felony, Long could have faced a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and $100,000 in fines. He and four other people used a gun to rob a sandwich delivery driver of $140 last summer. After that robbery, they tried to rob another woman and then carjacked a third woman.
They were arrested a short time later and Long accepted a plea deal on charges connected to the robbery of the delivery driver.
In a move that surprised and outraged many, both Milwaukee Public Schools and Milwaukee Washington allowed Long to continue to play basketball. In a statement to News/Talk 1130 WISN, MPS spokesman Andrew Nelson said that the district's "Athletic Code of Conduct requires a student who is charged with a violation under Wisconsin State Statutes, to be suspended from athletics for 25% of the season."
In Long's case, "the student also participated in cross country, which is a fall sport. Therefore, the penalty applied to 25% of the cross country season, as that is the sport the athlete would have participated in first."
Neither MPS nor Milwaukee Washington would say if Long joined cross country solely so that he would not have to serve his suspension during the basketball season.
"Our annual practice is for the MPS Athletics Department to work with athletic directors at the end of the school year to review the Code of Conduct, as well as other district regulations, to determine if changes need to be made for the upcoming school year," Nelson added.
In other words, the decision on whether or not to allow Long to play following his conviction was left to Milwaukee Washington, which let him play.
Long wore an electronic monitoring bracelet on his ankle as he led Washington to the WIAA State Basketball Championship Game, which the Purgolders lost to Kaukana High School. Subsequent outcry from fans and sponsors prompted the WIAA to reconsider its policy on student-athletes who are charged with and convicted of crimes.
As abhorrent as his off-the-court behavior was, however, Long's play on the court was undoubtedly steallar. He averaged 29 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds per game and was named WIAA City Conference Player of the Year. Both the Associated Press and Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association named him to their all-state teams, while the Journal Sentinel named him to its all-area team.
But should they have? Player of the Year awards and all-state and all-area teams are presumably selected based solely on a player's contributions on the court, but have they also served to reinforce the notion that even serious criminal activity will be tolerated so long as one's athletic skill is unique enough?
The Journal Sentinel Sports Awards, now in their second year, are unique in that there is no clearly defined nomination process. The Awards Show's web page says only that "the winners are selected by the Sports Department of the Journal Sentinel.
Journal Sentinel sports editors have not yet returned News/Talk 1130 WISN's calls and emails regarding the nomination process, but a source familiar with it believes that nominees and finalists, like winners, were all picked by a small group of Journal Sentinel sports page staff members.
Did they, like the Milwaukee Washington administrators and coaches who allowed Long to play, turn a blind eye to his criminality and look only at his play? Should they have? Should the Associated Press and Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association and WIAA City Conference have likewise honored Long?
This raises an interesting philosophical debate about whether one should be honored for his work regardless of his character; whether one's sins (and, in Long's case, crimes) should be weighed against his talents. Should basketball coaches be voting for a superb player who probably should not have been eligible to play at all?
The Journal Sentinel Sports Awards, though, were unique, as they did not involve any voting by a large group of coaches, players, or media members; they were simply picked by Journal Sentinel writers. Do they believe character counts for nothing? Should character count for anything in high school sports awards?
Or, as in high school sports themselves, does talent outweigh everything?