News of Puerto Rican officials seizing nearly 500 pounds of Cocaine worth more than $4 million from a home owned by professional boxer Ivan Calderon reminded me of something.
First thing that came to mind was a scandal in Tuscon, a 2-for-1 scandal of sorts, involving the Arizona Wildcats football team.
For starters, the Puerto Rican boxer has denied any knowledge of the cocaine found in his home, which he cited as one of many investment properties.
Now back to Tuscon… I was a sophomore, the year was 2002, circa mid-November when some of my buddies from the football team stopped by my dorm room for a little chat one evening.
The players told me that then-head coach John Mackovic had dished out verbal lashings to some players after an ugly 37-7 loss to UCLA all hell had broken loose since.
Athletes are used to being yelled at by coaches, right? Well apparently everyone has a breaking point, even big, tough football players. According to the players, verbal abuse was Mackovic’s every-day-way, and after the UCLA loss, the coach crossed the line when he hurled expletives at junior tight end Justin Levasseur and told him he was an embarrassment to the team and a disgrace to his family.
Didn’t anyone ever tell Coach Mack you DO NOT bring up mamas and families when trash talking? It’s a rule.
Anyway, the incident prompted more than 40 players, led by then-senior linebacker Lance Briggs, to head over to university President Pete Likins’ office for a chat where the players voiced their concerns and complaints about the 59-year-old coach, in his second year at Arizona at the time.
The meeting with President Likins led to Mackovic apologizing publicly and privately for his actions, but the team remained divided. The Wildcats went on to win only one more game and finished the season 4-8 overall with only one Pac10 victory.
In a strange twist of fate, only a few weeks later Levasseur was arrested on drug trafficking charges after he was stopped while driving through Illinois with 87 pounds of marijuana in his truck.
Perhaps Coach Mack was on to something… but both men would be punished in the end.
Mackovic was unable to regain the trust or respect of his players and was fired 5 games into the 2003 football season. He has not coached at the collegiate level since.
As for Levasseur, he pleaded guilty to a Class 1 felony charge (while two others were dropped), saying that he got mixed up with the wrong crowd in college, and low on cash, made a terrible decision. Levasseur’s father publicly claimed that his son’s actions were spurred by greed. While Levasseur’s football career was over at age 22, he was lucky to avoid serving jail time as he was sentenced to four years of probation and ordered to pay more than $275,000 in fines.
It looks like Levasseur is doing just fine these days, as he is “in a relationship” and living in Phoenix, according to his Facebook page
The last major character in this story is Lance Briggs. In reading his quotes from the Arizona Daily Wildcat back in 2002 ( http://wc.arizona.edu/papers/96/57/02_1.html ), one can see that Briggs was well on his way to bigger and better things on the football field and as a leader.
This was a time when young men were not afraid to stand up for themselves and speak out against something they felt was wrong. They displayed a type of bravery that has been lacking in today’s NCAA. Perhaps current students and faculty alike should borrow this page from Briggs’ old playbook.
While the Arizona football program has suffered several miserable seasons (until recently), the Chicago Bear and six time Pro Bowl selection is one of the few guys us Wildcats can brag about. So for that, I say thanks Lance, and Beardown!
Jackie Pepper is a sports journalist with nearly a decade of experience. As an anchor and reporter for Comcast SportsNet in Boston she covered the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins for the network's flagship show SportsNet Central and sister station New England Cable News.
In addition to her work with Comcast Boston, Pepper also anchored and reported for CBS affiliate KIDK, covering the Utah Jazz and various sports teams throughout the United States.
Pepper began her sports journalism career as a college radio reporter and talk show host at the University of Arizona. She went on to work for ABC Sports, ESPN and NFL Network, Yahoo! Sports and TMZ.
PepperOnSports.com features original articles, interviews, commentary and breaking news from around the sports world. Pepper also frequently contributes to live television and radio broadcasts as a guest sports and cultural analyst.
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