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Yancy Gates: Bad decision, not bad guy

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Paul Dehner Jr.

CINCINNATI -- To the country, over the past 48 hours, Yancy Gates became more than a basketball player. He became a trending topic. He became a caricature of an unbelievable and incomprehensible video clip pumped into the front seat of pop culture.

Let the judging begin.

Gates was cast as a villain. A punk. A thug.

And without doubt, for those disgraceful minutes, he was all of those.

On Monday, Gates accepted a new characterization. Sitting in front of the bright lights of the nation, he was a human.

Midway through a press conference where four suspended Bearcats apologized, Gates described his emotions after 48 hours of being judged. Then he let those emotions out.

"I'll do whatever," Gates said, discussing how he'll repair his image. "It doesn't matter, just whatever because I'm just not that type of person. A lot of people have been calling me a thug or a gangster..."

Gates stopped there. The 6-foot-9, 260-pound larger than life face of Bearcats basketball broke down with the innocence of a child. Eventually the tears were so visible and unstoppable, he pulled his shirt over his head.

For anybody seeking genuine remorse, nothing could be more genuine. Nothing more raw.

"I am homegrown, I am from here," he said. "A lot of people expect me to not only represent the University of Cincinnati but everybody; my family, kids back in Madisonville running around, from downtown. Everywhere I go a lot of the kids look at me and say, 'Look, there goes Yancy Gates.' The actions that I displayed are not what I am about, it is not what the University of Cincinnati is about and it is not what my family is about. It has been a hard couple of days dealing with it."

Saying the right things and succumbing to emotions doesn't excuse Gates' behavior. It doesn't even mean those casting harsh judgment upon him are wrong. No, only continued good behavior over a long period of time can establish that.

Therein lies the twist with Gates. He's grown up in the public eye and been viewed through a microscope the size of I-275. Every growing pain, disappointing effort or average season fueled the fire of public opinion. While many moments would be characterized as frustrating, none have been malicious.

At least, none until Saturday.

"My actions were not what I am about as a person," Gates said.

As AD Whit Babcock searched for the finish line of the suspension decision with no course map to guide, he spoke with the Big East's director of officials. Among many suggestions given, it was mentioned that none of his officials have ever experienced an issue with Gates.

He owns no record of anything vaguely resembling the violence witnessed Saturday.

For now, for everyone in America taking the opportunity to sit in a national columnist chair, high above those personally familiar with Gates, the broad brush paints over Gates' character rather than his moment of deplorable decision-making.

Expel him, they say. Kick him to the curb. The names follow: Villain, punk, thug.

The video proves them right. The long-term case study does not.

For one day, he deserved those monikers, but that doesn't make him a violent, malicious man who must be derailed to save himself as some would judge -- one who is not worth the opportunity to be given a second chance.

Those begging for more never made poor choices by gut reaction, right? 

Gates made a set of egregious decisions and received punishment for it. Was it fair? Was it soft? Maybe, maybe not. Would four more games make the masses satisfied? Eight? Twenty?

No magic number will make those punches disappear. No amount of losses will erase the embarrassment endured by himself and the university.

But to take one bad snapshot -- no matter how ugly -- and smash the camera, seems unfair. He deserves an opportunity for redemption.

Were his decisions that much worse than the numerous players involved that threw punches which didn't connect? You better believe all of the 5-10 players who threw punches were gunning for the same result.

Hence why Cheikh Mbodj and Octavius Ellis join Gates for the same time on the sidelines. And why Dezmine Wells and Landen Amos will miss four games.

All of these are deserved and leave a massive black eye on the city, schools and individuals.

For Gates, December 10, 2011 will follow the rest of his life. As will the judgments. The names.

In case anybody locked to the hundreds of ESPN replays were still paying attention Monday, Gates began the process of changing the conversation from villain, punk and thug to father, son and human.

He may have put forth two minutes of awful decisions to place his basketball privilege in question, but years of evidence to prove he deserves a second chance.

"When you do something and you're a public figure, you're going to hear about it - period," Cronin said. "What I talk to my players about all the time is we're not going to let other people define who we are. One incident, although a horrible incident for a lot of people involved, we won't let that define us. Certain people are always going to point to him; he's never going to be able to control that. But he can control the kind of person he is, the kind of husband he becomes some day, and the kind of father that he already is."

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1 Comment

Best story I've read about Yancy Gates since the brawl. One national basketball commentator, who wanted to see him suspended for a year, passed judgment on Yancy as a "gangsta", confusing his action with Holloway's post-game statement.