The rush to judgment on Cedric Benson

Driving back from Louisiana late Monday afternoon following a couple of days of R and R, I tuned in to <B>Ed Clements'</B> talk show on KLBJ-AM to catch the Austin reaction to <B>Cedric Benson's</B> arrest.

Before leaving the Bayou State Monday morning, I caught the first whiff of the story through an email pointing me to the Midland's newspaper's report of the Saturday morning incident, but aside from a couple of phone calls while on the road, I remained out of touch with the avalanche of public opinion until hearing a little radio sports talk.

As a former talk show host, I know from experience the fallacy of ascribing the opinions of a few callers to the public in general, but help us all if the hysterical ramblings of some of the voices coming through the radio Monday are remotely representative of Orangeblood thinking.

"Cedric needs to pay the price," one particularly righteous caller implored without defining what that "price" need be. "I'd suspend him for at least three games," said another. "Mack Brown needs to make an example of Cedric," yet another screeched. Although met with refutation by Clements and some other callers, many similar comments bounced around the echo chamber that at times is talk radio.

To that I say, can we not put the brakes on this rush to judgment?

Why does Cedric Benson need to "pay the price," any price, when it has yet to be determined if Cedric Benson did anything wrong? Why are we even discussing how many games Cedric Benson should be suspended when it has yet to be determined if Cedric Benson did anything wrong? Why does Mack Brown need to make an example of Cedric Benson when it has yet to be determined if Cedric Benson did anything wrong?

What we know at this time is that Benson has been charged with -- not convicted of -- possession of under two ounces of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and being a minor in possession of alcohol. What we don't know about the incident early Saturday morning in Midland that led to the charges above, though, far outweighs what we do know.

When did Benson arrive at the party that prompted the call to the Midland police for excessive noise? Did Benson know about the marijuana and the drug paraphernalia in the apartment and did he have any marijuana or drug paraphernalia in his actual possession? And more importantly, had he smoked any marijuana?

All of those questions, plus many more, must be answered before Benson should be declared guilty in any sense -- legal, moral or otherwise -- despite the many cries of guilt from the court of public opinion. The day those questions are answered is the day for judgment, not only of Benson's actions but of Mack Brown's in handling the situation.

So far, the Texas coach has done exactly what he should do from a disciplinary standpoint: nothing.

"Cedric's a great young man who we've really enjoyed having in our program," Brown said in a Monday afternoon statement, his only public comments to date on Benson's arrest, issued through the UT Media Relations Department. "We have talked with him and are aware of the situation that happened this weekend. Right now we are gathering as much information as we can. Obviously, it is a legal issue, and we cannot say anything further. One thing we have really prided ourselves on in our program is our family atmosphere, and this will be handled within our family."

At this point, a word is in order about a disciplinary situation that occurred a little over two years ago. Two days before the '00 Cotton Bowl, Brown suspended Aaron Humphrey, Kwame Cavil, J.J Kelly and Jamal Joyner for violating team rules. Although The University, citing the privacy-protecting Buckley Amendment, never officially commented on the reasons for the suspensions, that situation has some similarities to Benson's current situation.

The point here is not to compare the incidents for clues into a potential future punishment for Benson -- again, the full facts are still unknown in the current case and, despite one major material similarity between the two instances, there are significant differences as well -- but to instead highlight the fact that Brown has a history of dealing firmly but fairly when disciplinary action is required, regardless of whether the player is a starter or simply a bench-warmer.

Matter of fact (without revealing too much detail because it would jeopardize a source), action on the AHump-Cavil situation could have been delayed until after the bowl game, allowing the Horns' defensive and offensive stars to play, but Brown, on principle, stood up to the challenge that would have put the players on the field that New Year's Day.

If, in regards to Benson, disciplinary action is eventually needed, I expect no less conviction from Brown for doing what is right. At the appropriate time. And, despite the protestations of the guilty-until-proven-innocent crowd on talk radio and elsewhere, now is not that time.


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