Rashad McCants doubled-down on ESPN”s Outside The Lines yesterday. The former North Carolina Tar Heels superstar, who originally came out against the program and claimed he was given paper-classes to get by academically, stood by his original statements. That’s not entirely surprising, but McCants wearing his anti-NCAA shirt, coupled with going on OTL just days after Roy Williams and 20 of his closest friends refuted the claim, is proof that this debacle is not going to go away. Not quietly, at least.
The whole thing is very complex, and not just because McCants is a questionable character himself. It has more to do with the fact that North Carolina is, well, North Carolina. A school that is known to flex its academic prowess whenever it can and also happens to have sports programs of worth. Oddly, though, the way North Carolina – and to a larger degree, their fans – have dealt with McCants, Mary Willingham, and former UNC football player Deunta Williams is rather strange. Instead of dismissing their allegations with actual proof or making some academic records public, they have gone out of their to way discredit each individual instead.
There is some merit to what North Carolina is trying to do, though. Each accuser does have something worth questioning, from McCants’ motives to Willingham’s shock and awe information drops - which she usually has to clarify later – to Deuanta Williams apparently not being of notable enough to be taken seriously. All of which, if they were separate allegations, could end this scandal before it even made it to ESPN. Because trust me, outside of the North Carolina fanbase feeling persecuted and vilified by Willingham and ESPN, the coverage of Willingham’s original accusations in 2011 have gone widely under-reported by big sports networks.
But here we are. In 2014. Revisiting this for the very first time. It’s pretty strange that it wasn’t football, an actual UNC whistleblower, or the original — accused as being an iffy-at-best — self-investigation North Carolina did to put this in the national spotlight. Instead, it was the much maligned, NBA blackballed, supposedly broke and unreliable Rashad McCants.
How did we get here? Well, mostly because of Mary Willingham. You might remember the supposed Rosa Parks essay paper of doom. The one in which it was originally reported the paper resulted in a North Carolina football player getting an A for 146 iffy words on one of our country’s most important moments.
That resulted in an immediate backlash from some media members. That short paragraph got a player an A in African-American Studies? Well, only sort of. The reality was that the paper itself was most likely a rough draft written by a UNC football player. The A that folks thought he received for it was actually the player’s final grade, not for the paper. Something that Willingham originally left out from her ESPN interview (or as she claimed, ESPN left out). How did she clarify this, only after she was called out on it? The mean streets of Twitter, of course. Mind you, she wouldn’t go on to fully reveal that this paper was a draft, only admit that the A was a final grade in class. She stood by her original grumblings about UNC’s education.
Clarification on RP paper that went viral.It was a final essay for an intro class.Final grade in class A-.Not a real education. #ncaareform
— Mary Willingham (@paperclassinc) March 28, 2014
North Carolina backers use stuff like that to dismiss all the accusations. I can’t necessarily blame them. It is their school, their alma mater, their favorite program. North Carolina is important to them. They aren’t going to allow questionable ways of dropping information ruin decades and decades worth of credibility the university has built through being recognized – in theory and in practice – as an excellent institution of higher-learning.
That is just one person, though. North Carolina has had at least two others make claims against the school. So, naturally, especially after Willingham initially came under fire, UNC people took to discrediting the other alleged paper-class victims. I mean, it worked once to prevent this from becoming a bigger story, ruining North Carolina tradition and lore, as well as putting their sports programs in a position of NCAA scrutiny, so why not do it again? Well, because it is wrong. Not in a factual way per say, but in the way the school should go about proving its innocence.
Which is why Roy Williams’ appearance on ESPN, with his already mentioned 20 best buddies, is a little disheartening if not troubling. Williams played the “Aww, shucks, I just didn’t know about any this” routine. It might be true to some degree, but then he followed an admittance to academic ignorance with, “We have a very defined system here at the University of North Carolina.” Williams also said to ESPN, “I have somewhat control over the basketball program. I don’t have control over the academic side. But the academic side and our athletic director and our president want me to emphasize that academic side every single day, and they want our players to understand that.”
So, North Carolina wants Williams to push academic ideals, but not be involved with the actual academic process at all. Maybe that is a broken system, or Williams changing the idea of the system, but that is about as dumb a comment to make after claiming ignorance. What he is basically saying is that academics are really, really important to North Carolina and everyone made sure he knew about it and to let the players know about it, but to stay away from it. So, um, okay? Still, it doesn’t mean Roy Williams is lying.
But Rashad McCants being, apparently, everything wrong with the world does not make him wrong, either. Just because the messenger comes with some baggage of his own, does not mean the bags he is trying to drop off does not come with truth in it – or at least some nuggets of truth. Even if former North Carolina players – and now former Kansas players under Williams – are backing the coach as much as they could all while dragging McCant’s name through the mud, that does not mean we shouldn’t pay attention to what he has to say. Usually, sadly, most people who are large reasons for scandals breaking open (ex: Jose Canseco) are not exactly known to be the best humans walking the planet.
I can’t begin to tell you how many people have told me the only reason this is being done is because Rashad McCants is holding a grudge against Williams and is broke. That this a vendetta move, one everyone saw coming, and as soon as McCants is proven a fraud that all of this will go away (again). On the other hand, I’ve also had people tell me where there’s smoke there’s fire. That multiple accusations are just too much and UNC must be hiding something. And all of those things might be true, or at least true to some degree, but all it does is add context to an incredibly complex and deep issue. You would’ve hoped we would all have learned from our past mistakes regarding rushing to judgement. It wasn’t that long ago that everyone had opinions, facts, and hearsay knowledge of the Duke lacrosse story or the Bernie Fine scandal at Syracuse. How did that work out? Although, we know about hoping in one hand and doing something in another.
And trust me, all of this is incredibly complex, especially with how fast the pace has quickened since McCants added claims to Willingham’s original reports. But there is a solution to this incredibly complex debacle. For us, anyway. Instead of picking a side, using the other’s credibility as a way to prove our point, how about we just let this play out? Because we are not only talking about the reputation of an insinuation, but we are talking about every person who has ever defended or stepped foot in it. Or, even worse if true, the people who were taken advantage of by it.
But hey, sports stuff is on the line so (insert polarizing statement here).