SALT LAKE CITY— Pertaining to every circumstance, trying to defend the indefensible is a futile attempt at justification and never acceptable.
Specifically, this concerns the situation involving Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley, who last week was suspended indefinitely for sending a racial slur in a text to a high school recruit. The suspension, pending a university-sanctioned investigation, was the appropriate action.
It doesn’t matter that Scalley sent the text in 2013, during the time he was working as the safeties coach. Nor does it matter that the intended target of the text, which included what is regarded as the worst possible racist language, was another assistant coach as part of an apparent personal exchange between the two.
The player, who was from Texas, went on to be a part of the Utah football program for four years and graduated from the institution. To some degree, he and his family appeared to have moved past the incident.
Unfortunately for Scalley, who flew to Texas to apologize, none of that matters. All that counts is the text contained a racial slur of the highest degree.
The incident came to light after Scalley tweeted his reaction to George Floyd’s death, which involved police brutality in Minnesota and instigated worldwide protests. A subsequent tweet threatening to expose Scalley’s original text prompted the Utah administration’s action and external investigation.
As the story began to unfold, Scalley reached out to several former Utes to alert them. According to Eric Rowe, a defensive back from 2011-15, the coach expressed remorse.
"He's one of the greatest men I have a relationship with," said Rowe, an African-American from Texas who plays for the Miami Dolphins, in an interview with The Zone Sports Network.
Where does the university and football program go from here?
To begin, the investigation must be thorough at all levels involving the coaching staff and a necessary amount of former and current players. In this case, a quick resolution to Scalley’s suspension seems impossible.
Within hours and days of the university’s press release, several former Utah players came to Scalley’s defense. Several Utah football alumni — including Sean Smith, Ryan Lacy and Moe Lee — claimed on social media that Scalley’s text was not an isolated incident at Utah.
Obviously, these accusations are extremely troubling. If true, the football program could face a major overhaul.
"Whatever their personal experiences were with Scalley, mine were different," Rowe said.
A former star at Highland High and also the Mountain West defensive player of the year on the undefeated 2004 team, Scalley has been working for his alma mater since 2006. In the interest of full disclosure, he was a sports radio host at 1280-AM for a year on a show that immediately followed my daily morning show.
Last December, after drawing interest from other college programs, Scalley received a contract amendment with the perceived thought he was in line to succeed Kyle Whittingham as head coach. Whittingham, who turns 61 in November, has indicated a desire not to continue coaching deep into his 60s.
On the surface, Scalley is well-regarded and popular with many players as well as the media and Utah community. But at this point, his job status and future in coaching is in serious jeopardy.
And the fallout may not be limited to a singular coach. Depending on their knowledge and inclusion, others possibly could face sanctions.
Last Saturday, cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah acknowledged in a tweet the difficult nature of the situation. Saying he is unable to comment, the former Utah player asked to withhold judgment until “all the facts surface.”
This has been an exceptionally difficult week. However, as noted in Mr. Harlan’s statement, I am unable to comment because Coach Scalley’s issue is under review. I pray we all remain patient and withhold final judgment until all of the facts surface.— Sharrieff Shah Sr. (@UteReef33) June 7, 2020
Whittingham, who issued a statement addressing the seriousness of the situation, figures to be a key part of the investigation. Namely, he has to answer what did he know and when did he know it, with the same going for all of the coaches and support staff.
Somewhere along the line, many of us have become way too comfortable with the word at issue. Years ago, for many generations, using the slur in its original or modified form was considered the ultimate insult.
Yet here we are, the word often used in casual conversation and prevalent throughout music. For many, although providing absolutely no excuse, it has seeped into our vernacular in a place where it does not belong.
"It's a racial slur. I wish it was out of the language book," said Rowe. "In reality, everybody uses it whether it should be or not."