Cale Gundy's mistake is the unpardonable sin, but should it be? | Opinion

·5 min read

Cale Gundy screwed up. Big-time. There is no doubt about that. Only fools would argue otherwise.

When Gundy read aloud the n-word to shame some Oklahoma receiver who wasn’t paying attention in class, Gundy’s fate was sealed. It’s the unpardonable sin in polite American society. There is no return from such transgression.

But should it be a bridge too far? Should Gundy’s fit of anger, a momentary lapse of judgment after 23 years with no known similar behavior, cost him his job and endanger his career?

Before both sides get angry and lob flamethrowers at someone asking a question, let’s cut straight to reality.

Oklahoma's football’s decision — made by yearling head coach Brent Venables and grizzled athletic director Joe Castiglione — was not strictly some high-standing principle. Part of this was pragmatism.

Oklahoma assistant coach Cale Gundy watches during the team's practice for the Alamo Bowl, Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in San Antonio, Texas.
Oklahoma assistant coach Cale Gundy watches during the team's practice for the Alamo Bowl, Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in San Antonio, Texas.

Gundy might be damaged goods in the recruiting game. And recruiting was his forte. Adrian Peterson. DeMarco Murray. CeeDee Lamb. Gundy was the connector for two decades worth of Sooner stars.

If Gundy’s message to high school players was compromised, his value to the university would be gutted. And it very well could have been compromised.

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Perhaps this will be big news to virgin ears, but Texas A&M and Alabama, Texas and Oklahoma, they all play nasty on the recruiting trail. The Marquess of Queensberry Rules are out the window.

Gundy was being paid $610,000. About $10,000 of that was to positively impact young men. The rest was to recruit and produce playmakers, and if that wasn’t going to happen, there’s nothing left to talk about.

But leaving pragmatism and going to the principal side, what should be the penalty for such a high crime?

Public shaming and banishment are the accepted punishments of the 21st century.

But the Reverend Clarence Hill Jr. has a different idea. He asks why forgiveness and reconciliation can’t be the calling cards of race relations.

Full disclosure: Hill is my pastor at Norman’s Antioch Community Church, and he doesn’t spring these radical ideas only at opportune times. They are displayed in most of his sermons, which are big on empathy and gentleness and compassion.

Hill also is in national demand with business and civic and church leaders as a facilitator to better race relations, using his Dream Clock series, on how every race can better understand others.

And Hill has a simple question for Oklahoma. Why is Cale Gundy being tossed aside? 

Hill asks why we have a society where a Division I football team can’t put Gundy and the affected players around a table, have open and frank conversations, for several weeks if need be.

“Why couldn’t they solve this problem in one of those expensive rooms in the football area, and come to terms together like men,” Hill said in a Facebook post Monday night.

Hill said even if Gundy had some “slight intent” to hurt the young man, which frankly captures the spirit of what seems to have happened, and apologizes sincerely, there should be a path to reconciliation.

Hill grew up in St. Louis and says he often was called the n-word in elementary school. His family eventually moved to Iowa, and Hill was a non-scholarship basketball player on Johnny Orr’s 1993-94 Iowa State team.

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Still, Hill doesn’t follow sports much. He’s not looking at the Cale Gundy story through an athletic prism. His sights are somewhat higher than even the press box that looks down on Owen Field.

“Y’all, we’ve got to get forgiveness and reconciliation back in society,” Hill said. “The other option is division. If our society hits too big of a bump in the road, where someone thinks their children are threatened, and they start believing that other skin color or that other group is the problem, it’s not just going to be a bunch of words or a bunch of firings.

“There are people right now stirring themselves up in their own conversation.”

The word is abhorrent. The word is unacceptable. But people make mistakes. The infallible are not among us.

“Wouldn’t,” Hill asked, “it be a greater story to say, we got the players together, sat Cale Gundy down, brought Brent Venables in — everybody knows he’s high-character — and we just talked it through, like teams, like brothers, like friends, and we worked it out?”

To circumvent the racial and ethnic tensions that afflict our world, we need more communication. Not less.

The Cale Gundy story teaches us to keep our mouths shut. Don’t say a word so you won’t find trouble.

But that doesn’t solve anything. Only through conversations — getting to know each other — can we come to better understanding.

Hill says if Gundy is not contrite, or there’s a track record of dubious behavior, then fine. Fire him on the spot.

But is anyone testifying that that was the case?

“Anybody who has ever made it through a hard moment in a relationship would say, ‘Don’t fire the man after 25 years. Don’t force him to resign,’” Hill said. “Go to a table somewhere and figure it out.

“These are supposed to be tough football players. You don’t want ‘em to be tough in your muscle and thin in your soul. Help everybody push through this thing, if it’s possible.”

A worthy idea. A sound principle.

Of course, college football is not a spiritual endeavor. College football does not soar above the temporal.

College football is pragmatic. College football is survival of the fittest, and it’s possible Cale Gundy could no longer do the job he was paid to do.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cale Gundy leaving Oklahoma was obvious consequence, but should it be?