"Ah, I'm not sure. Maybe something in business." I really had no idea but it seemed generic enough of an answer when a well-to-do friend of the family asked what I was considering as a major. I was only 16 at the time and could not tell you what such a program truly entailed. I guess I just liked the idea of going into business.
"Good decision, there is a lot of money to be made there," he responded. "But you know, you have to have a little slime in that world." Then he added, with a wink, "But I'm sure you've got some, right?"
I'm still not sure if that was a rhetorical question or not, but he took my quiet, nervous laugh as a "yes." The conversation moved on, but my thoughts stayed with that brief exchange.
I had a hard time believing that behind every success story, there was a man with skeletons hidden behind the designer suits in his closet. Of course that's not true, I'd reassure myself, there are thousands of examples of successful people with high character.
Jim Tressel was one of those examples.
Sure, they had just won the national championship and I bled scarlet and gray, so perhaps I had put him on a pedestal initially. But he eventually earned such standing.
In every interview, he spoke with a tone of tender eloquence and always seemed to deliver some profound message. His players adored him and he adored his players. The fact that he could have such a connection with all those "young men" a third his age with completely different backgrounds spoke volumes to his emotional intelligence.
However, skeptics could easily argue that anyone could put on a face in front of a TV camera or that it is his job to treat his players well.
But I was fortunate enough to have met Coach Tressel a few times, and I can personally vouch that he comes as advertised.
A few years ago, I helped direct a philanthropy to benefit his cancer research foundation. The event was successful in comparison to other fraternity held events, but in the grand scheme of things, we donated $15,000 to a charity that routinely raises millions of dollars a year. With spring training around the corner and recruiting a year round ordeal, I should have been an afterthought. I should have been put on a back burner. I should have had to talk to his assistant.
But despite all logic, I felt like I was the only one he cared about in those moments I talked to him in person. I'm sure others have shared a similar experience.
Cheesy for me to say? Certainly. But true? You bet.
That's why when he withheld information from the NCAA, I believe there was no malicious intent. I honestly do not think he would lie so as to maintain a competitive advantage on the football field.
You may label me as a Buckeye crony if you wish, but hear me out.
How many emails do you think Coach Tressel receives a day? He pointed out in his press conference that everyday he is bombarded with miscellaneous emails (Can you sign this? Can you attend that? Did you hear about etc.?). He probably just scrolls through and types up quick responses as he goes.
How is he supposed to know how credible this initial email was? I mean, it's written in bullet points.
My guess is that Tressel didn't take this too seriously at first amidst the myriad of emails he was probably running through. His response seems to justify that conclusion: "Thanks (Blank)... I will get on it ASAP.... Happy Easter to you as well !! Go Bucks !! jt" Hardly the professional response one would expect to see from someone knowing the full gravity of the situation.
Soon, the attorney responds back with more information. This time he mentions that the information given is confidential. Tressel responds by saying if there is anything he can do, let him know. So far, so good.
The third email comes with more information and another reminder to keep these emails confidential.
At this point, Coach Tressel should have contacted Ohio State's legal counsel—a mistake to which he has admitted. But I cannot say I totally blame him for keeping mum about information illegally (I think, right?) leaked to him about an ongoing federal investigation into drug trafficking. What I find bizarre is that this attorney seems to care more about Ohio State football than getting disbarred.
With the fourth email, the attorney informs Tressel that the players were not mixed in with the drug trafficking but that the memorabilia was indeed sold by them. However, there is still an assumption of confidentiality, so it makes sense he would not pass the information along.
One reporter asked why he would continue to play those in question, alluding to the idea he may have done so in order to avoid spoiling a season poised to end in a BCS game. But could you imagine the media attention it would receive if Terrelle Pryor was benched for any non-medical reason? That's hardly keeping a fiduciary responsibility to keep the information confidential.
After the information of the sold memorabilia was made public, should Tressel have informed Gene Smith, Jim Delaney and NCAA officials of his knowledge of the situation? Yes. Should he have sought legal assistance earlier in the process? Yes.
I believe Jim Tressel is a man of character, but he is not the Pope—he is not infallible. With a $250,000 fine and a two-game suspension, he will pay dearly for his mistakes.
But I believe they were honest mistakes.
Maybe I'm just naïve. But without all the information, I'm left with two choices—and I'll always choose the world where sweater vests aren't stained with slime.