DON'T LOOK now, but the U.S. Naval Academy's zipper is down, and the whole country's laughing at the sight of its hypocrisy.
Having caught four midshipmen in forbidden sexual relations, the Navy sentenced three to expulsion and simultaneous public humiliation while allowing the fourth, star quarterback Chris McCoy, to graduate and pursue a professional football career, showing that his breakaway running abilities are at least the equal of his runaway glands.
The reason for the dual system of justice? Simple geography, says Adm. Charles Larson, the recently retired academy superintendent who handled the case. He says this, quite remarkably, with a straight face, noting that McCoy's embrace of plebe Felicia Harris happened off campus, while junior Aaron Smith and sophomore Kevin McGlathery had their moments with Harris in dormitory rooms.
It's noteworthy, for a military service with the Tailhook sex scandal behind it, and for a school with its recent public history of vulgar sexism, to be drawing such petty distinctions in order to ruin the lives of three otherwise stellar kids who let their desires briefly get the better of them.
But, as everyone knows, there are reasons for the academy's strict rules. Their young men and women are supposed to leave behind the stuff of youth, to abandon notions of personal romance and erotic whimsy for cold showers and personal discipline. They're supposed to be training themselves for sacrifice of all sorts, for thinking of the Greater Good and
Excuse me, does it say anything in there about the Greater Bad being conducted on campus or off?
The clear disparity in punishment isn't about geography, it's about institutional testosterone, and the legends of Staubach and Bellino and, as God is our witness, never to be football-puny again.
Chris McCoy isn't just the star Navy football player of the last two seasons, he's the poster boy for all future football possibilities, even if they never again approach the long-ago glory days when Roger Staubach and Joe Bellino were winning their Heisman trophies.
Did somebody mention Bellino? In his best days, the great Navy halfback never approached the running skills, or statistics, of McCoy. And, in his best days, Bellino made Navy football the talk of the whole country.
Did somebody mention Staubach? This was Staubach's reaction the first time he saw McCoy play football for Navy: "All he did
was rush for 273 yards -- which is almost as much as I rushed for my whole college career." All Staubach did, in his Heisman year, was make Navy the No. 2 team in America.
But, in case nobody remembers, hard times thereupon fell on Navy football. From names like Bellino and Staubach, they went to names like Elias and Forzano, and Tranquill and Uzelac and Chaump. From the second-best team in the country, they vanished without a trace, the victim of the country's troubles in Vietnam (try recruiting 18-year-old kids for the military at the height of an unpopular war) and the burgeoning popularity and financial possibilities of pro football (try recruiting exceptional football talent with a five-year military commitment awaiting them after graduation).
Thus, the downfall. A year after Staubach's last football season, Bill Elias became head coach. In four years, his teams won a total of 15 games. Then came Rick Forzano, whose teams won 10 games -- in four years. George Welsh restored a trace or two of the old glitter for a while (though his teams weren't much better than .500 overall). Then came Gary Tranquill, who had one winning season in five; Elliot Uzelac, whose teams won two games, three games and three games over three seasons; and George Chaump, who survived consecutive 1-10 seasons, but only barely.
What's this got to do with giving Chris McCoy preferential treatment? Plenty. He led Navy to its first winning season in 14 years. He was its first legitimate Heisman candidate in 35 years. He's the vehicle for Navy to attempt recruiting today's high school hotshots. But imagine the scenario if he'd been treated the way his three friends were.
Recruiter: "You know, the great Chris McCoy played football here at Navy."
High school hotshot: "Did he graduate?"
Recruiter: "Well, no, he was expelled."
Hotshot: "What for?"
Recruiter: "Uh, having sex with a female classmate."
Yeah, that would go over real well with some 18-year-old who's just beginning to revel in his glandular equipment.
Chris McCoy's not just a football star, he's a marketing tool, he's a poster child. He's so good, there's even talk of cutting his five-year military commitment to two years, so he can play pro football. Why not? It's peacetime, ain't it? McCoy's worth more to the Navy in football gear than in dress whites. Every time he's on TV, he's a signal to those high school kids: This can be yours, too.
The problem is: Those other three kids shouldn't be penalized for the crime of not being Chris McCoy. And that's what the whole country sees when it looks at the U.S. Naval Academy with its zipper down and its hypocrisy showing.
Pub Date: 6/28/98