Marshall: SEC Football Theater of the Bizarre

Phillip Marshall writes about the saga of University of Alabama football booster Logan Young.

The theater of the bizarre continues in Memphis.

Tuesday, word spread throughout college football circles in the South that former Alabama booster Logan Young, the only man ever convicted of criminal charges based on NCAA violations, was dead. Memphis police said he'd been murdered. They said there had been a violent struggle. They said they had to use dental records and fingerprints to identify the body.

Sadly, the finger was pointed almost immediately at his son, who quickly submitted to questioning and was cleared.

Two days later, the Memphis police said "Oops!" Turns out, they said, there wasn't a murder at all. Young apparently fell down the stairs at his Memphis home, hit his head and died from the injuries. A world-renowned blood spatter expert led them to that conclusion. Young apparently wandered throughout the house, bleeding profusely, until he went back upstairs and died next to his bed.

And the conspiracy theories began.

On Paul Finebaum's radio show, lawyer and Young friend Philip Shanks protested that Young would have walked past at least three telephones, that he could have called 911, that it couldn't have been the way police said it was.

Well, yes it could have. Anyone who ever took a serious blow to the head knows it could have.

Years ago, when I was living in an apartment, I slipped on ice in a parking lot and banged the back of my head on the pavement. I got up and walked into what I thought was my apartment. I actually walked into the coin laundry and was totally confused by those strange looking machines. When I finally started to come to my senses, I was on the telephone having a conversation with someone who surely thought I'd lost my mind. I had no idea the back of my head was bleeding. I had no idea how I'd gotten back to my apartment or how I ended up on the telephone. Only later did I even remember what happened.

Just as Shanks and others ignored the evidence and insisted Young never paid for football players, some will now ignore the apparent evidence and insist that Young had to have been murdered. Why would police in Memphis want to cover up such a thing? They wouldn't, of course.

Regardless of how it happened, I was saddened by Young's death as I was saddened by the last years of his life.

I first came to know Logan Young more than 25 years ago. He was a regular around Southeastern Conference and Alabama functions. He was consumed by Alabama football and by Bear Bryant, but he was not an evil or bad man. Though his loyalty to Alabama was unquestioned, he was also a friend to other coaches and a benefactor to other schools.

Did he break the rules? I don't think there is much doubt that he did. He was known to brag about it when he'd been drinking, which he did a lot. But he was not the first or the last booster to allow his love for a football team to cloud his judgment.

Should he have been convicted of racketeering in federal court? That's another question. But he was convicted, and sadly, that will be his legacy.

It had to be a terrible blow for Young to be officially disassociated from the Alabama athletic program. Even in death, he was not welcomed back. Alabama athletic director Mal Moore's only public response was a short, terse statement.

Young was a Vanderbilt graduate, but his father was a close friend of Bryant's. Young, too, would become close friends with Bryant. The two frequently traveled together during the offseason. And, yes, they frequently drank together.

Young's crime was having too much passion for Alabama football and so much money that he could put that passion into action.

I have never understood the hero worship of one adult for another, whether it's an athlete, coach or politician. I have never understood the desire for grown men to be recognized by 20-year-old kids who happen to be good football players. I have never understood why a man would risk his good name to try to make sure he can brag about the football team he supports. But those are the things that lead successful people to lose their ethical bearings and do things they would never do in any other parts of their lives.

It's all supposed to be fun, this enterprise called college athletics. Relative to war, starvation and all the other ills in the world, it really doesn't matter who wins the Iron Bowl.

But it mattered to Young. It mattered so much that be became a convicted felon. It mattered so much that he will be remembered, not for the good he did, but for the bad.

And that's really sad.

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