More thoughts on Stirrups
The news reported in Tuesday's Times that former Hillsborough High lineman Leslie Stirrups had been arrested and charged with six felonies brought a range of responses from fans -- frustration, disappointment, disbelief.
I caught the arrest late enough Monday night that I wasn't able to get a lot of details beyond the basic charges. In short, police say Stirrups stole digital cameras worth about $300 each and other small items from cars parked in the parking lot near Tampa International Airport where he and his mother worked.
When I called Pearl River Community College, where Stirrups was set to play this fall after failing to qualify academically at USF, coach Tim Hatten was blunt: This was not the kind of activity he'd tolerate in his program, not the kind of character he wanted to bring to Mississippi. Unless the charges go away very quickly, Stirrups has no place on his team.
The easy reaction is that it's slightly hypocritical that one day after he takes Carlton Hill off USF's hands, knowing he's had a recent arrest for possession of marijuana, Hatten says he wants no part of Stirrups and his error in judgment. With Stirrups though, the issue is greater, because it attacks a coach's ability to trust the young man. If he's willing to steal from customers of a business that employs both himself and his own mother, what conscience would stop him from stealing from a teammate's locker?
What's truly mindless in all of this, both funny and sad at the same time, is how Stirrups got caught: With both cameras, police say he took a few pictures of himself and friends before pawning them, never deleting the images. So when police were able to recover the cameras, they saw the post-theft pics and showed them around at the parking lot office. Of course, they could identify him; he worked there. It's the kind of silliness you normally laugh at while reading Carl Hiassen novels.
His six felony counts are remarkably similar to another USF signee who failed to qualify academically and wound up at Pearl River three years ago, a linebacker named Gene Coleman. We chronicled his problems last spring in a story about how college programs rarely do any kind of background checks on recruits; with Coleman, he'd burglarized a neighbor's home, with more than $13,000 in jewelry stolen. Again, not the smartest criminal mind, police said Coleman had stolen a $40 Wal-Mart gift card straight out of a Father's Day card, and was later identified on store surveillance cameras as he bought video games. The neighbor never got her wedding ring back, but still told a judge she didn't think his actions should take a college scholarship away from him.
This might not be the end for Stirrups. Coleman managed to avoid jail time in his case, and would probably be at USF today had he been able to get his academics straight at Pearl River. This is Stirrups' first known arrest, so it's reasonable to think he could get a plea agreement lowering the charges to misdemeanors -- the low end of the range for third-degree grand theft is $300, and he's barely above that on both sets of charges. He'll have to find a junior college willing to take him, then he'll have a year or two to show enough for a Division I program to trust him with a scholarship, all while solving the academic problems that have limited him so far.
On a far brighter note, I want to offer a link to an encouraging update from Times writer Brandon Wright on the rehabilitation of former USF standout J.R. Reed, hoping to return to the Philadelphia Eagles this fall after missing last season with a horrific injury that badly damaged the peroneal nerve in his leg. Reed, like Stirrups, is a Hillsborough High grad, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a former Bulls player more universally liked by fans, teammates and coaches. For all you newspapers-are-always-negative critics, the Reed story dominated the front page of Tuesday's sports section; the Stirrups one was on an inside page.