- - Wednesday, July 26, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I’ve heard elders talk about a time when teachers could spank a child at school. That often would lead to another spanking at home, punishment for receiving the first one.

It didn’t matter if the original sentence was unjust, if the student mistakenly was blamed for another’s misbehavior. Cases of “he said, she said” never ended well for kids pitted against the adults. Teachers were the judge, jury and spanker — all in one. Their decisions were final and always respected upon appeal when children returned home.

Being falsely accused is infuriating, especially when others buy into the allegations. You’re fortunate if the “only” consequence is a dinged reputation.

But sometimes you’re not that lucky, regardless of your name.

Lucky Whitehead was participating in a session Monday at the Dallas Cowboys training camp when he found out Virginia authorities had a warrant for his arrest. They claimed he missed a court hearing for a shoplifting incident on June 22.

He asked the Cowboys for an opportunity to clear his name, to prove he wasn’t arrested for taking about $40 in food and drink from a Wawa convenience store in Prince William County. He wasn’t even in the state when the incident occurred. The team would hear none of it, dumping him within two hours.

“Let’s not sugarcoat anything,” Whitehead told the Dallas Morning News. “I was pretty much being called a liar.”

On Tuesday, the police said Whitehead was a victim of mistaken identity. The department “regrets the impact these events had on Mr. Whitehead and his family,” it said in a statement.

That’s great. But what about the Cowboys? Where’s their regret, their remorse? Where’s their apology for the rush to judgment, their willingness to unconditionally reject Whitehead’s denial?

“Yesterday we made a decision that was deemed to be in the best interest of the Dallas Cowboys,” coach Jason Garrett told reporters Tuesday at a news conference. “We’re standing by that decision. We’re going to move on.”

Garrett used a variation of “in the best interest of the Dallas Cowboys” 10 times in three minutes. He wouldn’t say why cutting Whitehead was in the best interest or why the determination was made Monday as opposed to, say, Sunday. He wouldn’t say whether the warrant was a factor (obviously) or the cause was strictly Whitehead’s ability (hardly).

Standing by the decision and moving forward. That’s all Stonewall Garrett offered in his best impersonation of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

I guess it’s asking too much for the Cowboys to apologize. But we shouldn’t be surprised. The team is taking its cue from the league, which is never wrong in disciplinary matters.

Whitehead paid the price for other players’ transgressions, particularly his former Dallas teammates like Ezekiel Elliott (various alleged offenses), Damien Wilson (aggravated assault), David Leonard (drug policy violation), Nolan Carroll (DUI) and Randy Gregory (drug policy violation).

Of course, Whitehead would still be employed if he was Elliott or quarterback Dak Prescott. Forget about quick triggers; Dallas wouldn’t have reached in those cases, let alone fired. The franchise would’ve talked about patience and letting the process play out, which ultimately took less than 24 hours.

However, injustice is injustice, whether the victim is a marginal player or a Pro Bowler. It’s a fact that the latter group receives preferential treatment, understandably so at times.

But this isn’t one of those instances. Whitehead deserved better. His denial would’ve been easy enough to confirm.

Blame it on the NFL’s inability to find the right touch on discipline.

The league staggers between knockout punches and wrist slaps, sometimes imposing punishment after charges are dismissed, other times letting players off with relatively light suspensions. The Personal Conduct Policy adopted in 2014 — after the NFL butchered cases involving Ray Rice and Greg Hardy — was supposed to improve the process but it made matters worse due to Goodell’s pompousness.

The policy states that players are subject to discipline if “convicted of a crime or subject to a disposition of a criminal proceeding. But even if your conduct does not result in a criminal conviction, if the league finds that you have engaged in conduct [prohibited by the policy], you will be subject to discipline.”

The Cowboys disciplined Whitehead by cutting him, violating should-be clauses for decency and common courtesy. Where’s the policy for that?

“It’s disappointing, but it’s a tough life lesson for the young man,” Whitehead’s agent, David Rich, told ESPN. “He’ll be fine. I’ve had three or four teams reach out to me already, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was picked up.”

In fact, on Wednesday afternoon, the New York Jets claimed the former Cowboy off waivers.

Dallas cited a pattern of behavior when it released Whitehead, despite his “it wasn’t me” defense. Now that he’s been cleared, the organization comes off as weak and pathetic by sticking to its position.

The Cowboys spanked Whitehead for getting a spanking he didn’t deserve.

They compounded the mistake by failing to admit guilt.

How that’s “in the best interest” of the team is beyond me.

Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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