Will Wade is a free man.
Despite everything chanted at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center Saturday during LSU’s blowout win over Vanderbilt, LSU’s 36-year-old head basketball coach isn’t incarcerated and is eligible for all the rights given to a domestic citizen. He can vote. If he commits a crime (which he’s not being accused of), he can and would be given a timely and fair trial by jury. Maybe most importantly, based on this past week’s set of circumstances, he can speak freely without the fear of prosecution – which, up to now he’s chosen not to do. Will Wade is no martyr, not a sympathetic figure and he’s not, nor will he ever be, the victim of this story. And yet, that’s how he was painted by either a foolish majority or a very ignorant vocal minority of 13,546 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as its favorite college program clinched a Southeastern Conference championship. The three-word protest sentence “Free Will Wade” was chanted throughout LSU’s building with the intensity of Donald Trump’s “Lock Her Up” rally slogan or an idea that Wade was somehow being waterboarded in the basement of the facility. In doing so Saturday night, LSU fans showed their collective hind parts on a national stage and made themselves the symbol of ridiculous, misplaced anger over nothing more than the nonsensical notion of team/brand loyalty.
Let it not go without being said the “Free (fill in the blank)” protest chant is designated for the Nelson Mandelas of this world. Will Wade isn’t that and never will be. And you know who would and should know this? Louisiana natives. According to data from the Prison Policy Initiative and reports by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Louisiana has become the world mecca of incarcerations per capita, some of which are people who are wrongfully jailed. And this is what makes the words of LSU student Tommy Kuluz even more confusing, frustrating and disappointing. According to the Times-Picayune, Kuluz, a first-year law student from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, said: “I feel like some moves that were made by our athletic department recently were a little bit premature.” Kuluz couldn’t in fact be more wrong. The “moves” were actually late, not premature.
When we peel back the viral verbal chanting stupidity, a multi-millionaire athletic coach wasn’t in the building due to being suspended with pay after a Yahoo! Sports media report presented evidence that led Wade’s employer (LSU) to suspect he broke company policy involving the now-suspended freshman player Javonte Smart. Since Christian Dawkins, the middle man on those FBI wiretaps, was arrested in Oct. 2017 and found guilty of felony wire fraud one year later, it is likely LSU officials could’ve been aware of what was coming. It is impossible that Wade didn’t know and didn’t have the opportunity to admit these phone calls took place since the moment Dawkins was arrested. These are the facts of what has happened over the last few days.
And no, Joe Alleva is not the Rosco P. Coltrane of this story either. Alleva’s choice was to do what he did with his head coach (for which he got booed heavily Saturday night by LSU fans) or let his non-action represent the definition of what the NCAA deems “lack of institutional control.” Don’t confuse yourself by thinking the latter was an option. It wasn’t. And don’t think for a second Alleva and school president F. King Alexander made that decision independently without the help of legal counsel. Should Alleva have gotten to the bottom to why Wade and Arizona head coach Sean Miller were subpoenaed last month to testify at the upcoming April trial in New York where Dawkins is facing an additional charges of bribery? Yes. And Les Miles, Jimbo Fisher and Tom Herman likely wouldn’t argue with you if you consider Alleva’s timing and execution of decisions highly questionable. However, in this case, late doesn’t equal wrong.
And unfortunately for the LSU fans that continue to want to be angry at somebody and turn a SEC title moment into an incredibly awkward protest rally, the emotional context and motive of why doesn’t make Wade any more sympathetic. Nor does it make the NCAA the evil villain who has tied Wade and the indefinitely suspended Smart to the railroad tracks. If Wade committed the violations that his own FBI-recorded words suggest as possible in the court of human common sense, then that same judicial cerebral branch would conclude he didn’t commit the violations to expose the NCAA’s inconsistent, outdated and exasperating definition of amateurism or “student-athlete.” Wade did it to A) get players to sign with him, B) to win games and C) to continue getting millions of dollars. A+B+C does NOT equal the nobility of a whistleblower.
So, Wade is being suspended indefinitely (not jailed or tortured) until his employer can verify he didn’t break rules. Not a unique story. Not against the law. Nothing that companies/universities/organization attorneys don’t advise their clients to follow on a regular basis. Kuluz should, or eventually will, understand this when he continues to learn about clients needing protection from liability. A competent legal team would advise LSU’s athletics department to do exactly what Alleva is doing. A more competent legal team would’ve suggested Alleva make this play months ago, but let’s say it again — late doesn’t equal wrong.
In order for LSU’s actions to be premature, as Mr. Kuluz claimed, Wade will need to translate his own words of plain English as to what “a strong-ass offer” means. Wade will need to explain how he planned to take care of Smart and his family, specifically his mother, within the constraints of the NCAA rulebook. Wade will need to account for why an unnamed third party would need to “get enough of the piece of the pie in the deal” without rules being broken. And he’ll need to do all this by executing one of his fundamental rights as a free citizen — speech. Oh, Will Wade is most definitely free. He’s free to speak on this matter at any time he wishes.
Categories: College basketball