As USC kicked off fall classes this week, students sounded off with surprise and disappointment over football coach Steve Sarkisian’s recent intoxicated outburst.
At the campus Involvement Fair, which featured different school clubs, some students said Sarkisian should be held more accountable for his actions.
The football coach used foul language and insulted opposing teams after showing up intoxicated by a mixture of medication and alcohol at the annual “Salute to Troy” pep rally last Saturday. He apologized, announced plans to seek rehabilitative treatment and was dressed down by Athletic Director Pat Haden. No disciplinary measures have been imposed.
“I feel like he has to set an example for the students,” said Emily Rainbolt, a freshman. “He is over age, so I guess he can drink when he wants, but I feel like maybe it’s a little inappropriate to do around college students.”
Rainbolt said the campus requires all freshmen to take an online alcohol-education course to learn about abuse and metes out consequences to underage students who are caught drinking. Yet there seemed to be a double standard with those in the vaunted football program, she said.
“I think it’s important to have some accountability,” Rainbolt said. “But I feel like football is a different thing. If football players do something wrong, it doesn’t really matter because sports are pretty big.”
Leonette Espina, 19, said it was ironic that a university seemingly strict about drinking would let its coach off so lightly. “I think the coach should be more responsible and be a good example to the students,” she said.
Some Trojan band members said they noticed immediately that Sarkisian was slurring his word at Saturday’s pep rally.
“He was drunk. He looked tipsy,” one freshman band member said. “We were sitting together and laughing because we were like, ‘What is wrong with him?’ We all kind of assumed he had had something to drink.”
Her friend, also in the band, said if they were caught drinking, they would be written up and restricted from participating in school activities.
“It was kind of unprofessional of him. He was in front of a bunch of donors and important people,” she said.
“He has the right to drink, but he just probably should have made a better choice,” another of the band members said.
The issue sparked an animated conversation between Noelle Uhler and her 17-year-old son, Thomas, who came from Kansas to tour the campus Wednesday.
Sarkisian should be talked to by the athletic director, reminded that he is a role model for students and receive a warning — but not a suspension, Uhler said.
“I think that he made some bad choices and made a big mistake that he needs to learn from because he needs to be a positive role model for all the student-athletes,” Uhler said.
But, she added, “We’re all human, and I don’t think it should be overboard. I think he’s learned from his mistake. ... This is an opportunity for him to show his student-athletes how to handle something like this with grace.”
Her son, however, disagreed.
“I feel that a student-athlete would be suspended,” Thomas said. “I think the coach should be held to the same, or even a higher, standard — especially as a role model.”
“That is a good point,” his mom conceded. “Those athletes are held to an extremely high standard, and the coaches should be held to an even higher standard.”
“You’re right,” she told Thomas.
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