- The Washington Times - Monday, June 14, 2004

The rush to overreact is absolute in the drunken-driving charge before Bob Huggins, the outlaw basketball coach at the University of Cincinnati.

Huggins already has been suspended indefinitely, with pay, by the university before he has his day in court.

Huggins already has issued two apologies, complete with tears and an unsteady voice. Huggins already has been portrayed as a person with a serious drinking problem who needs professional help, which is a fairly impressive diagnosis of those speaking from considerable distance.

This much is clear: Huggins never should have been behind the wheel of his vehicle, which he sullied with his vomit, according to the arrest report. He made an incredibly poor decision, particularly so for someone who has the financial means to order limousine service seven days a week.

Yet the pendulum against drunk drivers has swung out of proportion to the crime in the last generation, partly because of special interest groups.

This is not to minimize the death and carnage associated with drunk driving in America. That is why there are tough laws against drunk driving.

Huggins, if convicted, could lose his driver’s license, be fined and sentenced to jail.

Because he is a first-time offender, Huggins likely will plead to a lesser charge and avoid the stiffer penalties. However it turns out in court, Huggins is paying each day for his negligence on a suburban highway in Ohio. As a high-profile college basketball coach, Huggins is enduring the additional penalties of public humiliation and embarrassment.

Huggins deserves whatever the judicial system imposes on him.

He did not deserve the swift and unyielding response of his employers.

His drinking problem, if he has one, has not compromised his ability to lead one of the nation’s premier college basketball programs. Like his methods or not, Huggins is Cincinnati basketball. His employment should not be used as a blunt instrument against him, at least not in the first days of the charge.

America has an awfully peculiar attitude with this legal substance called alcohol. Americans are inundated with advertising messages that teach no social affair is complete without bottled spirits. We then respond with righteous indignation if someone inevitably goes over the edge one night, as Huggins apparently did last week.

We seemingly have more compassion for druggies, to borrow one of Pete Rose’s talking points. We tend to want to rehabilitate them in a hurry and put them back to work. We tend to embrace the potential worthiness of a drug addict, no matter how many relapses the person suffers.

Yet one DUI charge can be a career-killer.

In this context, the university’s response to Huggins is being labeled a second chance, as if banishing someone to professional purgatory is somehow reasonable.

You can question this coach’s recruiting methods and the type of “student-athletes” he lures to an institution of higher learning. To question whether he should keep his job is an overwrought reaction of the “perfect people,” coach Bob Knight’s pet term for those of us who make our living commenting on the foibles of others.

You should not drink and drive. That is a no-brainer. Huggins is fortunate he did not hurt himself or someone else on the road, and he is going to have to deal with his brain-dead decision in the legal arena.

Yet there also is this: If America started purging everyone who had hit the highways while being intoxicated, America would have one serious unemployment rate. That hardly makes drinking and driving right. It merely shows a need to have some balance around a delicate social issue.

Let the courts decide the fate of Huggins and leave his professional life out of it for now.

If the athletic director is truly interested in helping Huggins, as he contended, he picked an interesting course, removing the essence of who Huggins is until a later time.

Huggins suddenly has nothing but free time in his life, and more reason than ever to find comfort and solace in a bottle, if that is his inclination.

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