SEATTLE — Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the precocious and now contrite Washington tight end, concluded Mea Culpa Week on Tuesday afternoon, serving as the featured apologizer for the Huskies’ offseason of drunken disregard.
His words were convincing, his sincerity encouraging. He sounded like a young man who understood the stupidity and recklessness of his actions. Like wide receiver Kasen Williams, who headlined this convention of sorrow on Monday, Seferian-Jenkins appears intent to prove he still possesses character that we once didn’t dare question.
“It’s still a process,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “Nothing’s healed just like that. It happened in March and there’s obviously people that are still hurt by it. It’s a very serious offense and I take it very seriously because that’s not the type of person I am at all.”
It was an apology without an ensuing request, without the immediate expectation of forgiveness, which is the best kind of apology. The only criticism of ASJ’s remorseful interview had nothing to do with him. It was the fact that he only answered questions for about four minutes before the UW sports information ended the media session.
While I can understand the merciful decision not to make Seferian-Jenkins suffer through a long interview when he’s already been punished plenty, my dissatisfaction with not being able to probe the star player more underscores a key issue that lingers. It’s an issue that will continue to be scrutinized until the public learns whether coach Steve Sarkisian will make Seferian-Jenkins and Williams miss any game action for their alcohol-related offenses.
The debate here is about what style of punishment is most effective. Though Sarkisian is using team policy as a shield and refraining from making a public announcement about penalties for his star players’ very public sins, it appears the coach doesn’t think he needs to include missing playing time in the punishment. It’s still speculation, because Sarkisian hasn’t said anything definitive, but his tone clearly indicates that he thinks Seferian-Jenkins and Williams have learned their lessons.
If so, Sarkisian’s style of discipline will be, at best, a polarizing subject in a community that has experienced multiple examples of the devastation of drunk-driving recently. At worst, Sarkisian will be labeled as a soft, DUI-minimizing coach who, like many of his kind, cares too much about winning and too little about real life.
After four years of guiding teams that are largely comprised of good citizens, Sarkisian has earned ample benefit of the doubt. But this is the first major test of his disciplinary acumen.
Seferian-Jenkins pleaded guilty to DUI (his blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit) and served a day in jail. Though he was suspended from the team after his arrest in March and has undergone more punishment in private, I believe that any player who gets sentenced for a crime should at least have to miss a game.
Williams was cited for underage drinking after being pulled over with a blood-alcohol level under the legal limit. His case isn’t as severe as ASJ’s, but not playing him for a quarter or half is still a reasonable response.
But here’s an unknown that you must respect from Sarkisian’s side: Only he knows what these players have done to redeem themselves thus far. He won’t reveal any details, citing team policy, which undermines his attempt to win with the public. Still, several sources say that both players — and especially Seferian-Jenkins — have made “impressive” and “unbelievable” and “way beyond what we thought” attempts to make things right, or at least better. And they are expected to do more to educate their teammates and squash the alcohol carelessness before it becomes a problem within the team.
So Sarkisian figures to risk taking a public-relations hit because he believes he’s getting through to his players. He was asked Monday if he felt he needed to make a statement. He responded in a fervid manner.
“No, I don’t,” he said. “Austin is not going to be punished for everybody else’s crimes. He’s being punished for what he did on an individual basis. I’m not a lawmaker. I don’t pretend to be. That’s for people smarter than me. My job is to develop a young man I care deeply about, who’s a good kid, who’s made an honest mistake and has dealt with it.
“It’s a very serious deal. Our team has taken it seriously. I think it has hit home immensely. Am I aware of what’s going on in our community? Heck yeah, I am. I grieve for those families who’ve lost loved ones. I urge our state to be proactive in dealing with laws that deal with DUIs. But Austin will be dealt with for his incident and not what others have done.”
But Seferian-Jenkins had better stay out of trouble. And every Husky currently in that locker room had better avoid alcohol-related misconduct. Otherwise, Sarkisian will regret his stance and lose some of the credibility he has spent years collecting.
“I go to sleep at night feeling good about what we’re doing,” Sarkisian said.
Ah, but even he can’t predict a nightmare, and nightmares are inevitable. And when they occur, the coach can only hope he has the right grasp on reality.