This week as the Tennessee Volunteers prepared for their upcoming game against the Florida Gators, head coach Jeremy Pruitt confirmed to the media that starting cornerback Bryce Thompson would travel to Gainesville, presumably to make his season debut against the Gators.
Thompson had been suspended for Tennessee’s first three games for an arrest on August 25, 2019 in Knoxville. Thompson was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence. According to the arrest report, Thompson threatened to “slap the s***” out of the woman, and witnesses also reported that they heard Thompson threaten to “shoot up the school.”
Later that week, an investigation found court records from Richland County, South Carolina that showed Thompson had a restraining order filed against him in April 2018, a month before he enrolled at Tennessee. In the report, the woman alleged that Thompson has a history of violence against her and others, had slapped, choked, and shoved her, and threatened to kill both her and the other guy she began dating.
Nevertheless, Thompson enrolled at Tennessee, participated in Spring Practice, became a Freshman All-American, and was set to have a major year in 2019.
On Monday, September 23, after he returns to Knoxville from Gainesville, Thompson will have his preliminary hearing in the case.
Moving to the other sideline, Dan Mullen has been criticized over the course of the summer for his handling of players dealing with domestic violence issues. Prior to the season starting, Tampa Bay Times writer Matt Baker wrote an article that drew national attention to the Mullen’s program, as sophomore defensive back John Huggins was the 5th member of the program to be accused of domestic violence. Despite removing each accused member from the program, Mullen still faced backlash. Huggins was never charged, and the woman in the case wrote in a sworn statement that she was “more worried about his studies.”
Nevertheless, Huggins was suspended during a UF Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution investigation. Later, despite being cleared by the investigation, Huggins was dismissed from the team for what Mullen called “not living up to what we expect of the Gator Standard.”
But the purpose of this article is not to contrast Jeremy Pruitt and Dan Mullen. It isn’t even to defend Mullen, really. The purpose of this article is to have each reader reflect on what we truly value as a society.
First of all, I want to acknowledge that due process is every citizen’s right, and it is incredibly important to keep in mind especially with high-profile figures. Thompson’s lawyer has said that he “Never directly threatened the woman,” and he should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. I am also a staunch believer in second chances. Dan Mullen drew criticism for giving 5 star recruit Jeffrey Simmons a second chance, but Simmons turned his life around and has been a model citizen since his incident. I also know that usually in cases like this, only very few people have all the facts regarding the case and those involved. So generally speaking, I am hesitant to rush to judgement.
Bryce Thompson, however, has had his second chance. This has nothing to do with Tennessee squaring off against my beloved Gators this weekend—we’re going to win regardless of whether Thompson suits up. Rather, this has everything to do with the fact that Thompson was afforded his second chance when he enrolled at Tennessee without a hindrance and is now involved in another incident of domestic violence to go along with his restraining order for threatening to kill a woman. Not to mention he also threatened a mass shooting. Given the severity of these allegations, the fact that Bryce Thompson will travel and play for a Tennessee on Saturday is unconscionable.
Imagine for a second if the star football player at your local high school was accused of threatening to kill a woman AND shoot up the school he attends. Not only would he be arrested and kicked off the team, but he would be expelled from school and would almost certainly have his scholarship offers rescinded. It might even make national news.
If those are the standards for high school football, then shouldn’t they apply in this case too? Shouldn’t the standards be raised for a Southeastern Conference program? Or do these standards not apply because Tennessee could really use their Freshman All-American in a big rivalry game?
All the time on the news and in social media we see people talk about believing women, holding aggressors accountable, and standing up for change. And that doesn’t even get into the national discussion about gun violence and mass shootings. Talking is great, but real change comes from action.
We must ask each other whether societal changes are more important than wins. Every coach will give you their soundbite that they take accusations of domestic violence very seriously, and I’m sure they would say the same about threats of mass shootings and gun violence. But the reality is that playing a player with such serious allegations as these, the weekend before he is to appear in Court, shows that Jeremy Pruitt and the University of Tennessee care more about winning than society. Make no mistake about it, this is an indictment of Tennessee’s program under Jeremy Pruitt and Philip Fulmer, but I do not think the situation is unique to them. One could even argue that Florida has had its own troubles with this “whatever it takes” mentality under previous leadership. At the end of the day, if we want to actually change society for the better, we must preference people over wins.
(Above photo via: AllForTennessee)