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Thursday, August 10, 2006

...some slack.

Harrison, of course, was the Michigan defensive lineman who made a habit of strolling around Ann Arbor masturbating in front of alarmed coeds. When caught by police he was booted from the team and transferred to I-AA North Carolina A&T. (It's unclear whether Harrison had the option of remaining a Michigan student or not.) His year was as uneventful as possible for a famous for masturbating. He started on the defensive line, made 39 tackles, and kept his pants in an upright and locked position at all times as the wheels of justice ground slowly towards him.

Harrison was convicted in December and dismissed by A&T pending a standard review of his case. Eventually the school, working with the Michigan legal system, agreed to re-admit him so he could continue with the rest of his life. Six days ago, The Greensboro News-Record, a classy newspaper way more responsible than crazy bloggers, slapped this headline across their front page six days ago:

Sex felon returns to N.C. A&T

Two days ago the editor put up a blog post defending their decision to continue their series on Harrison (one of the letters mentions this is the second front page story on Harrison within a week) with the following rationale:
  • "The young man has had a high profile for a year." Just a thought: maybe this is because the Greensboro News-Record keeps putting him on the front page.
  • "Last week, we learned the university had readmitted him and he was going to play football again. Then, once we asked about his status, the acting chancellor got involved and determined that Harrison would not be play football." The News-Record must have a very large front page if it covers every A&T student who doesn't play football -- and thanks to their diligent pursuit of the truth Harrison has joined their ranks and can no longer do the one thing he knows he's exceptional at. No doubt that will straighten his life out. Hey, it worked for Maurice Clarett.
  • And, of course, the News-Record has to save the children: "* Most important, a convicted sex offender is going to attend a state university alongside many students who are going to be away from home and unchaperoned for the first time. We believe that is important information for the A&T community to know. (As a parent of a college-age student, I find that information relevant.)" Because this "high profile" young man is a complete unknown to the A&T community. No doubt everyone plum forgot after the last front-page article.
  • ...but not the Duke children: "Quick add: I should emphasize that it makes a difference that A&T is a state institution. It has, in my mind, responsibilities to taxpayers and citizens that private schools don't necessarily have."
All you need to know about the legitimacy of these articles is contained in the last pathetic bullet. "N.C. A&T is a public school" is not a reason for or against informing your readership of the re-admission of a sex offender, dangerous or no. The straws strain from the various clutchings going on.

Yesterday the AP published a completely quote-free story on the university's reaction to the manufactured scandal:
Officials of North Carolina A&T State University say they want to know more about how a former University of Michigan football player was allowed back into school after being convicted of a felony sex offense.

Shirley B. Frye, special assistant to interim Chancellor Lloyd V. Hackley, plans a trip to Michigan this week to review documents in the case of Larry Tarone Harrison Jr., university spokeswoman Mable Scott said Tuesday.
Harrison's status as a college student is in danger of being revoked once more.

I have no wish to defend Harrison's actions. I have always held that no one should be forced to watch a 300-pound defensive lineman masturbate.* No doubt the women he approached were scared out of their minds -- if a three-hundred-pound man approached me with his poxy mast rigged and ready for sail I would be frightened, too -- but the only person Harrison touched was himself. At its heart this story is about Harrison doing something weird and frightening, but not evil. It's his misfortune that his particular weirdness is a hanging curve for a horde of loud, twitchy people.

Despite harming no one, Harrison has lost any opportunity to make a living in football and is on the verge of being run out of college entirely. He's is clearly in need of counseling or (helpful prescription) drugs or psychiatry but, in a word, this is insane. Sure, he's a "sex felon," but to paste that into a splashy I-A headline is irresponsible. It conjures images of violent sexual assault; the only reason it's not libel is that it's technically true. The only reason that provocative headline was on the front page was to sell papers, whether or not the N-R will admit that, and that's despicable. But we do what we must for circulation numbers.

If Harrison was a Dungeons & Dragons aficionado instead of a defensive lineman, this story would have elicited mild titters when he was caught and then faded away. Harrison would have dealt with the justice system, transferred somewhere, and not been the focus of stories on the front pages of totally classy newspapers. Well, Greensboro News-Record: Harrison's not a football player any more. He's just a guy who may or may not like Dungeons & Dragons, so you can ignore him like the rest of the area sex offenders.

And kids, please: Don't be Harrison or Mike Cooper. Masturbate in the comfort and privacy of your home.

*(That sentence is a candidate to go on my gravestone.)