Second chance, OK; third, no way

Brian Sumers

Randy Walker, what were you thinking?

Two weeks ago, you announced that Braden Jones, a football player with a history of violence, would be invited back on the team. You gave a third chance to a linebacker who’d been arrested twice in two years.

Not a good decision.

On Saturday, while watching teammates upset Ohio State from the stands, Jones went for a trifecta. As Ryan Field security tried to escort him from the stands after they received complaints he was being disorderly, the 21-year-old junior closed his fist and punched one of the stadium’s guards, police said. Jones also elbowed a guard in the face, according to police.

At his press conference Monday, Walker said Jones won’t be returning to Northwestern football again. A good idea, but it’s too little, too late.

Perhaps Jones’ departure should have come in March 2003, when he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of battery and unlawful use of a drivers’ license, stemming from an incident at Zeta Beta Tau fraternity. After his arrest then, police said Jones had punched a police officer, although the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office did not pursue charges.

Jones was sentenced to one year of court supervision and four days of community service. He also was temporarily suspended from the football team.

Walker allowed him to return, and Jones deserved a second chance. He didn’t merit it because he started nine games and made 76 tackles his freshman season, but because he deserved an opportunity to show Walker and his teammates he could remain under control.

But a year later, we learned Jones hadn’t changed.

Last March, Jones was charged with assaulting and trying to rob a taxi driver. At the end of his ride, Jones refused to pay and then struck the driver in the head, police said.

Jones withdrew from NU after the altercation and Walker announced: “(He is) no longer part of the (football) program.”

But somehow — and this is hard to believe — Jones was back at school in time for classes Sept. 22. And after some early-season conditioning, he was supposed to return to the field.

This news, shared in a Sept. 20 press conference, came as a surprise. Yes, the taxi driver’s charges against Jones were dropped, but that fact doesn’t make up for his violent history.

Jones deserved one — and only one — second chance. Even if he’s a good guy — as his teammates have told The Daily — two screwups should have been enough.

But that’s not what Walker thought.

When Jones left school in March, Walker cited his higher than 3.5 grade point average and his SAT score of more than 1400 as reasons why the former linebacker still was a good kid. We might assume that those credentials, along with Jones’ athletic talent, helped convince Walker to let him rejoin the team.

While those academic numbers are impressive, plenty of NU students have good grades.

And most of them don’t get the same type of opportunities as Jones. They don’t get full scholarships, they don’t get free books and they don’t get to hone their craft in front of a national television audience.

So, if anything, Walker should have held Jones to a higher standard.

Reach Brian Sumers at [email protected]