Murray State guard Zay Jackson made the wrong kind of headlines this summer by hitting a couple with his car outside the Murray, Ky. Wal-Mart in September. The surveillance video of that incident has been released, making clear the situation was quick to escalate beyond a mere argument.
The video shows Jackson backing into Jason Clement of Paducah, Ky. as Clement tries to take a picture of Jackson's license plate. Clement had approached Jackson after seeing the Murray State player shove a shopping cart into a parked car.
Jackson backed his car up until he was facing both Clement and his wife Alia, then plowed his car directly into the couple. Alia Clement was thrown aside, but her husband remained clinging to Jackson's hood all the way across the front of the store and around the corner of the building. Jason Clement was finally thrown from the car beside the building as Jackson sped out of the parking lot.
Jackson pleaded guilty to two counts of wanton endangerment, a reduced charge from the original assault charges filed after the incident. Judge Dennis Foust sentenced Jackson to 30 days in jail and other considerations, including community service and anger management counseling.
Jackson began serving the jail sentence on Friday.
In a statement released to the Murray Ledger, Murray State athletic director Allen Ward stuck by the embattled player.
"...I just want to be very clear that Zay’s status hasn’t changed,” Ward said. “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..."
Ward added at the end of the statement, "...he’s going to be a very big part of this program, and he will be part of the team this year.”
Returning Jackson to the team this year would risk a major public relations blow to a program that was one of America's feel-good stories of the 2011-12 basketball season. Murray drew millions of eyes via ESPN cameras to normally quiet Ohio Valley Conference games as it ran its record to 23-0 to start the season.
Jackson averaged 4.9 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 18.4 minutes per game last season. He was expected to be a backcourt complement to All-American Isaiah Canaan this season, lessening the loss of the departed Donte Poole and Jewaun Long.
Perhaps after a season-long suspension, after the furor over Jackson's "mistake" has died down, he can return to the team and be an uplifting story of redemption.
If he's welcomed back to the team immediately after serving his jail sentence, however, Murray State runs the risk of painting itself as a university more interested in its athletes chasing glory than in those athletes becoming good citizens.
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