A Decision Coming Soon For Miami

Phillip Marshall talks about the trial and future of Miami's Willie Williams.

Linebacker Willie Williams of Carol City High School in Miami became something of a cult figure earlier this year among college football followers in the Southeast. Williams, rated by some the top defensive prospect in the nation, documented his recruiting visits each week for the Miami Herald, describing his likes and dislikes in often colorful terms. It turned out, of course, that he made up a lot of what he said. But by the time that came to light, he had far more serious problems.

On his recruiting visit to Florida on the last weekend of January, the real Willie Williams showed through. At a Gainesville hotel, he hugged Florida student Joanna Braganza without permission. When she protested this stranger putting his hands on her, he said ‘Who do you think you are, bitch? You're a dime a dozen. Then he expressed amazement that she didn't know who he was. He told police that's the way we do it in Miami. On that same night, a nightclub patron accused Williams of punching him several times for no apparent reason. He closed out his Florida visit by setting off a hotel fire extinguisher, felony criminal mischief under Florida law.

Those incidents came to light as Williams prepared to sign with the University of Miami. But that wasn't all. Records showed he was probation. He pleaded guilty in September 2002 to a stereo shop burglary. Further investigation showed Williams' rap sheet didn't end with the burglary. Williams admitted violating probation last week. Earlier, he pleaded guilty to felony criminal mischief and misdemeanor battery in the Gainesville incidents. He will be sentenced Tuesday.

It would seem obvious that Williams has lost his chance to play for the University of Miami, right? Not so fast my friend.

The judge has already said he's not sending Williams to prison, which is probably the right decision. Williams could still, however, be sentenced to up to a year in the county jail. He rejected an offer in which he would have served a year under house arrest to be followed by probation.

Want some insight into what is going to happen?

It would certainly be in his best interest and in society's best interest to keep him in college rather than not in college Kaplan said. It would also surely serve the best interests of the Miami Hurricane football team.

And that is what this is all about.

If Willie Williams was an unknown, just another teen-ager who got into trouble, nobody would be fretting and wringing their hands over his future. He would be viewed as a thug.

Instead, he has the athletic director at the University of Miami speaking in his favor. His court-appointed lawyer, Paul Lazarus, said Williams' behavior in Miami was more boisterous than anything else. It was boisterous if you are a football player who has been taught by the system that, because you are big and fast and talented, you can have anything he want.

The University of Miami is the best place for Willie Williams, Lazrus told Kaplan. They will make him toe the straight and narrow. There's little doubt the University of Miami would have been the best place for a lot of young men who are rotting away even now in Florida's jails and prisons. But they couldn't run a 4.4 40-yard dash and bench press 400 pounds.

I am, at heart, a softie. I believe in second chances. On a jury, I'd be a prosecutor's worst nightmare, because I'd probably believe whatever a defendant said. I believe Williams deserves a second chance, but not in the spotlight at the University of Miami, not now.

Williams would be well-served to sign with a junior college and go play football on dimly lit fields with a few hundred people in the stands for a couple of years. Maybe that would help him understand that being a football star doesn't give one the right to abuse other people.

It's not going to happen, though. If the judge doesn't give Williams the freedom to go play for Miami, if Miami doesn't decide he should be admitted, that will be the upset of the year.

Miami officials know the reality of college football. If Williams is free to play and they don't sign him, somebody else will. They might have to play against him.

But sometimes you just have to do the right thing. Miami should tell Williams good luck and send him on his way.

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