Ole Miss LB Denzel Nkemdiche
There's been no shortage of talent heading to Oxford over the last few seasons, but some of those players are staring a concerning court date in the face.
According to Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, star defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, linebacker (and older brother) Denzel Nkemdiche and five other unnamed people who are believed to be football players are being sued for a total of $2 million for an alleged assault in February 2013 that left two men injured, one of whom was knocked unconscious.
The report alleges that a separate fight broke out at a fraternity house and members of the fraternity asked guests to leave.
The plaintiff, Matthew Baird, claims that he was leaving the party when he was hit from behind and knocked unconscious by Denzel Nkemdiche. Robert Nkemdiche and the five other people allegedly jumped in and began stomping Baird's head on the ground. Baird's friend Ford Everett then allegedly came in to help and was also injured in the fight.
Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork stood behind his football players and pointed out in a statement, per Kellenberger, that no criminal charges were originally filed:
When this alleged incident occurred, the proper authorities investigated the matter and could find no evidence of wrong-doing related to Denzel and Robert Nkemdiche or any other members of our football program. This is a personal matter for them and we will support Denzel and Robert while they defend themselves in this civil case.
Defending players, especially considering the lack of a criminal case, is certainly the right move. But Bjork, head coach Hugh Freeze and the rest of the staff should still be concerned with the suit.
This isn't a run-of-the-mill legal incident. This is a vicious beating.
The players are innocent until proven guilty—even in civil cases. But even if the involvement of the players wasn't as serious as the lawsuit claims, if any were involved at all, they should be punished accordingly.
This isn't acceptable behavior.
Even being a secondary figure in something like this isn't acceptable behavior. More importantly for Freeze, you can't allow the perception of this being acceptable either internally or externally.
In the case of Denzel Nkemdiche, it should be even more concerning for the program. He was arrested and suspended this past weekend for disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace, and both Nkemdiche brothers were suspended for the first quarter of the Rebels' Music City Bowl win over Georgia Tech.
Bad behavior is now a pattern for the elder Nkemdiche, and not only is that bad news for the program off the field, it hurts the team on the field as well.
Denzel Nkemdiche was a member of the 2012 freshman All-SEC team after notching a team-high 82 tackles for the upstart Rebels. He tailed off a bit in 2013, finishing an injury-riddled year with 35 tackles and one forced fumble.
Even though Serderius Bryant, who also was arrested in a separate incident over the weekend, emerged as a star in place of Nkemdiche in the linebacking corps, the Rebels still need him for his experience, depth and potential when healthy.
It's been a rough week for the Ole Miss football program, and the news that at least two and possibly more players are being sued for a viscous attack should add to the concern for Freeze and his staff.