Adults too willing to coddle troubled high school star


September 10, 2006|By MILTON KENT

We who are sports fans frankly are lucky. Our world is entirely about fun and games, so much so that in the newspaper business, the sports section is not so affectionately referred to as the toy department, because what we deal with is piffle.

Every so often, though, the real world intrudes upon play and forces us to examine what we hold dear and why and whether, in the pursuit of wins and losses, we are doing the right thing for ourselves and, most importantly, for our children.

Such an instance has presented itself in Montgomery County, where a talented football player is being allowed to suit up and play this year despite facing two felony charges, including one that he allegedly drove the getaway car in a March 30 robbery.

A front-page article in Friday's Washington Post lays out the strong desire of Wheaton football players to have Pat Lazear, an All-Met linebacker with a 4.6 40-yard dash time and scholarship offers from more than 20 Division I colleges, join them - and that's understandable.

Kids, even high schoolers, want what they want, usually with little thought of the consequences or of broader implications. All the Wheaton players know is that the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Lazear, who made 124 tackles at Walt Whitman, makes them a better team and possibly can lead them to their first winning season in four years.

According to The Post, the Wheaton players already have selected Lazear, who ran for 1,000 yards and scored 18 touchdowns last year as a running back, as a team captain.

The Wheaton players either are unaware of or have ignored the circumstances that helped get Lazear to their school. Lazear is accused of providing a gun to one of three friends, then dropping that friend off at a Bethesda smoothie shop, where he allegedly showed the gun and left with nearly $500 with Lazear behind the wheel of the car.

Those four allegedly switched to a different car, split the money and later met a fifth friend, who worked at the shop. Lazear is facing charges of armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery and could draw up to 20 years in prison on each of the charges stemming from the March incident.

Though the principal at Whitman recommended that Lazear be expelled last spring, an arbiter overturned that ruling, and county education officials reassigned him to Wheaton.

A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge declined to move Lazear's case to juvenile court, citing, in part, a November 2004 case in which Lazear used a stolen credit card to buy a pair of $130 sneakers. Lazear must wear an ankle monitor at all times, even during games, and has a 7 p.m. curfew, though it was waived for football practice and games.

Again, one can hardly fault the Wheaton players for apparently turning a blind eye to Lazear's alleged transgressions. Beyond the fact that he might be able to help them win, the kids likely commiserate with Lazear, thinking they would like to have a break if they ever got into trouble.

And Lazear himself is to be understood, on some level, for skipping over the details of the trouble he faces to focus on how this affects him now and in his football future.

According to The Post, Lazear groused that the curfew interrupted his plans for a relaxing summer, including going on fishing trips or to the beach. He is also concerned that if the court case, which is scheduled for Nov. 29, is prolonged, it might interrupt his chance to play football in college.

The troubling part of this story, though, is the apparent willingness of adults around him to enable and coddle Lazear, as if what is happening is no more important than a speeding ticket.

At a court hearing, Lazear's mother, Angela, was asked by a judge if she ever thought about keeping him away from football as a penalty. Her response, according to The Post: "We don't look at football as an extracurricular activity. We look at it as an opportunity ... to pay for his school. ... We have never considered that. It would ruin his future."

Meanwhile, Tommy Neal, the Wheaton coach, could have done the honorable thing and told Lazear that football, for the foreseeable future, might not be in his best interest, and that being on the Wheaton squad certainly wasn't in the team's best interest.

Instead, Neal told The Post: "We're going to keep the past in the past and let him focus on football. I told him: `I don't care what happened in the past. Let's make this situation the best for everybody,' " adding, "I'd be a fool to take him off the field. He'll play both ways all the time and do everything for us. Pat sees this as an opportunity to put Wheaton on the map."

As we've learned in recent seasons, that map has been handed down from NFL coach and general manager to college athletic director and coach, who looked past the route of good character and ideals to the X spot of victories and dollar signs.

Unfortunately, while that map gets wrinkled and tattered from being passed from one amoral coach to another, it never gets lost.

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