The ballad of Hugh Freeze: We hardly knew ye

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By MIKE HERNDON

We humans can look past a lot of things. We can celebrate criminals as heroes, exalt the ignorant as erudite, revere the repressive as liberators. We can rationalize away almost anything, particularly when someone is telling us what we want to hear or giving us something we want.

Ole Miss rationalized away former football coach Hugh Freeze’s responsibility for a bunch of scandalous recruiting violations alleged under his watch, even as they admitted that many of those violations occurred. That’s a bit of mental gymnastics that would make Simone Biles envious.

Why did they prance out onto that cracking limb? Was it his 39-25 record? His four bowl appearances in five years? His two wins over Alabama in the last three years? His 10-3 record and Sugar Bowl win in 2015? Yes, yes, yes and yes. The man took the Rebels to heights they hadn’t sniffed since the ‘60s, ranked as high as No. 3 in the nation in 2014 and ’15. That is very difficult to let go.

But when the Rebels learned of a call he’d made on his school-issued phone to a number belonging to an escort service — and later an unacceptable “pattern of personal misconduct” when they dug deeper into his phone records — it was apparently the straw that broke the camel’s back. What it really broke was the logic they’d stretched to its breaking point in order to prop up their defense of him.

They had rationalized their stance with their insistence that Freeze, who frequently professed his Christian faith as the bedrock for his program, was a man of character. Now that belief had been discredited.

I wonder: If he’d bragged instead of proselytized, if he’d presented himself as a womanizer instead of a man of faith, would it have been any different? Perhaps not to Ole Miss, but what about the rest of us? Is it the news of a call or calls to an escort service that we find so sensational, or the fact that they came from a man who has vocally professed himself to be a Christian?

After all, we are not above tossing our values to get what we want. The President of the United States, you’ll recall, once bragged that he grabbed women whenever and wherever he liked and, during his campaign, said he didn’t feel the need to repent for anything. And we ignored it all elected him anyway, with evangelicals leading the charge, because we were so desperate to believe the bullshit he was selling.

Don’t feel bad for Freeze. He made his own bed. He’s the one who has to pick himself up now that it’s collapsed on him.

But he’s not the only one who has some soul-searching to do. Ole Miss was willing to look past the rules violations, was willing to mislead people into believing most (instead of just some) of them occurred under the previous regime, to keep getting what it wanted. It wasn’t until the character upon which the Rebels had built their defense of Freeze was found fraudulent did they cut their losses.

And to think, if they hadn’t tried to spin it off onto Houston Nutt, they might never have gained that poison pill of knowledge that forced their hand.

We all have our vices. But when the legs of the chair upon which a man like Freeze stands to tell us who he is are kicked out from under him by the revelation of that vice, there will be nothing – and no one – there to soften his fall. This is why such stands are difficult to make.

We can look past a lot of things, but nobody likes a hypocrite.

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)


Categories: College football

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