Reputation stained by more than ink

Friday, June 24, 2011, Vol. 35, No. 25

Philip Martin, columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, began his Sunday piece awhile back with a quote from The Winner’s Manual: For the Game of Life by Jim Tressel:

“We live in a skeptical world. News reporters are always looking for ‘change,’ and most of the time things change for the worse rather than for the better. But the constant negative drumbeat we hear about things not going well and people not doing the right things can wear us down as individuals and as a society.”

Purporting to reply, in the wake of Tressel’s recent departure from Ohio State amid allegations that he lied about his athletes’ violations of NCAA rules, Philip wrote:

“I understand the central hypocrisy of most human interaction – we rarely say exactly what we mean when we mean it…

“I don’t think making a mistake – or in your case, engaging in a persistent pattern of deceitful behavior to cover up the wrongdoing of others – necessarily makes you a bad person…

“…Coach, we all know what the most important thing is in your business. It’s winning – and not in some overarching ‘game of life’ but…on the football field…

“…I’ll even go so far as to say you’re at least partially a victim in all this, and that a lot of the people who are relishing your fall from grace have gotten away with a lot worse than what brought you down ... But still ...”

Wow! What a set-up! Dare I ascend the soap box?

Somewhere near the heart of this matter is an allegation that 30 or so players over a seven- to eight-year period traded OSU memorabilia for discounts on tattoos! Tressel supposedly knew this and said he didn’t – something like that.

As might be expected, reactions range from “so what?” to “tsk tsk!” to “crucify him!” No one, by the way, is saying anything negative about tattoos. As someone, purporting to advise me, said, “That ship has sailed.”

But, I replied, if tattoos are as desirable as a glance at any sports team seems to indicate, then why not hire an assistant to apply them for free?

Preferably, starting with the temporary kind. So that if there is still such a thing as coming to oneself and saying, “Why the heck did I do this?” a player could wash it off. And maybe even opt not to replace it with the permanent kind.

A day after his Tressel’s “resignation,” thousands of Buckeye fans staged a walk in support of – well, him! No word on whether anyone was hawking tattoos at the rally.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops weighed in on the issue, saying coaches can’t “follow 100 players around.” College ballplayers, Stoops said, “are very well educated on what’s allowed and what isn’t.”

Tattoos? Allowed. Paying for them with championship rings and jerseys? Not so much, apparently.

Phil’s column ended, “You’re right, Coach, that ‘negative drumbeat ... about people not doing the right things’ does tend to grind us down. It makes me wonder if I’m skeptical enough.”

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at