Lost in the Midnight Madness shuffle on Friday was the fact that Murray State's Zay Jackson was sentenced to 30 days in jail for driving his car into two people in a Walmart parking lot. But that was the minor news of the day.
A little while after the plea bargain was approved, a television station in Tennessee released the surveillance video of the incident. Somehow this flew under the radar. We had the video posted here at Mid-Major Madness on Friday and it drew some attention, but nothing like we would have expected given how obnoxious the act was.
You can actually see the victims clinging to the hood of the car as Jackson speeds away. How is this not getting noticed by all the major sports media outlets?
The omission was even more glaring when you have ESPN sitting at Murray State for its Midnight Madness celebration, and the topic doesn't even come up. How is it that no one in Bristol took the time to follow this story when they are going to be on campus?
By Monday though, people were starting to find this video across the sports landscape and the reaction has been understandably harsh. We have a lot of chatter about the wanton actions of numerous athletes but rarely is there a video that goes along with the incident to appropriately frame up what happened.
Jackson's actions could have been classified as a "Don't" in How to Win Friends and Influence People.
The school is sticking behind him for now. In a statement released by athletic director Allen Ward, this was abundantly clear:
"I've been asked the question plenty of times what Zay's status is with our program, and I just want to be very clear that Zay's status hasn't changed. He has been suspended and he continues to be suspended, but I want people to understand that Zay's still a very big part of this program, that he made a mistake, he's taken responsibility for that mistake, he's been accountable for it, and we're going to do everything we can to help him through this and let him know that he has the support of the Murray State program, the campus, the community, the students that have all shown him a lot of support. He's got some tough days ahead of him. It hasn't been easy on him, these last couple of months, not being a part of the team activities, but we will continue to work through those times and we'll be there for Zay, and he's going to be a very big part of this program, and he will be part of the team this year."
That statement came out before the video was widely distributed. It would be hard for Ward to have such a strong stance in the days following the backlash from the footage.
There was Matt Norlander at CBS:
Will the video cause change? Should it? That's a pretty horrifying act you see. Some could rightfully think he should be kicked off the team. Others could argue a year's suspension, but still staying in school is the proper punishment. Then surely some can think that living a month of one's life in a jail cell is all the scare and discipline Jackson -- a first-time offender -- needs for this.
And the Yahoo Dagger piece that really got the ball rolling:
To say the least, the disturbing video doesn't portray Jackson in a flattering light.
And then there is this from Rush the Court's Chris Johnson who, video release timing issues aside, takes the hardest stance here and says it is mandatory that the school react as strongly as the courts:
Murray State is well within its rights to ramp up Jackson's punishment on its side of the equation. At this point, it's almost mandatory.
If Jackson is allowed to re-join the Racers after completing his sentence, it will serve as a negative flashpoint for MSU's standards of conduct, a case study on the Racers' lax enforcement procedures and misplaced priorities. Ward would be sending a horrible message - not just for the basketball program, but for the university at large and the image being projected out to the larger NCAA community. In the backdrop of the recent Dez Wells' expulsion, which stemmed from an allegation (much less a proven crime), Jackson's incident demands a harsh response. Besides, I'm not sure Racers fans would stand for such a lenient approach.
I find it hard to believe that the school would have stood by him this long, especially knowing that the case was going to a plea bargain, and that Jackson had essentially admitted his guilt. The details of the crime were well known before the video; the video just puts an exclamation point on a horrific few minutes for a couple of people just doing what they thought was right.
Considering that the reaction from the community against the two victims had been so harsh, the school should have stepped in before, in only to help quash a fire storm that could have become much worse.
The Racers do not have a choice in the matter any more. This won't be forgotten, and it will be called up every time that Jackson takes the floor for Murray State. Any public relations person worth their salary working for the school should be sitting outside Ward's office at this point until they are able to convince him that a more stringent reaction is needed.
Nothing will fully erase the memories of the incident -- not after watching that video. But it will at least put the perpetrator out of sight, that might be enough to put the worst of this out of mind.