There are two current headlines involving chemical abuse on the Twin Cities sports scene. One involves a drug ring within the University of Minnesota wrestling team, and other has hit close to home for me with the arrest of Twins pitching coach Neil Allen on suspicion of drunken driving.
There are people who attempt to make apologies for most missteps by athletes at the University of Minnesota, but in the area of outrageous behavior, I see this as a truth:
The alleged Xanax distribution by four of coach J Robinson’s wrestlers is a greater scandal than the academic fraud that took place in Clem Haskins’ basketball program during the 1990s.
This isn’t a few athletes saying to other students at a party, “Hey, try one of these.’’ This has been reported as 2,500 Xanax pills. They were shipped by a wrestler no longer in the program to four current wrestlers to serve as the sellers.
“That’s an incredible amount of Xanax,’’ an internal medicine doctor told me. “I don’t even know how you would get that amount illegally.’’
What would be the motive? That’s not a tough guess: profit.
Five bucks a pill for wrestlers and $8 for other students. According to the source, there were 10 wrestlers buying the pills. If you have 1,000 pills set aside for wrestlers to gobble (which seems a generous amount) and 1,500 for other students, that’s $17,000 from the last shipment for the former wrestler and his allies to split in some form.
J Robinson, in his world where everything can be handled by a call for discipline and personal responsibility, decided the way to deal with it was to have the involved wrestlers write on a blackboard 50 times:
“I will not illegally sell or buy federally controlled substances.’’
OK, there aren’t blackboards anymore and Robinson actually had the culprits write a one-page essay, but the punishment meted out by the 69-year-old coach was the same as he faced when caught chewing gum in a grade-school class six decades ago.
The headline at startribune.com early Friday morning read: “Robinson’s Gophers wrestling coaching career could be in jeopardy.’’
I look at J Robinson as a unique personality to have had around here, building a national power in his sport and fighting for his beliefs, but there’s no “could be’’ about this.
If what was first reported by Channel 9 and has been expanded by the Star Tribune is a solid summary of the facts, J Robinson should show the personal responsibility that’s he always pushed and resign.
The bottom line, J old boy, is this was a drug ring and the result of your alleged actions was an attempted cover-up.
News of the wrestling Xanax ring made me wince. News on Thursday that Neil Allen had been arrested early that morning on DWI suspicion made me ill.
Allen was hired as the Twins pitching coach for new manager Paul Molitor in November 2014. In early February 2015, Allen made a visit to the Twins’ spring training complex for the first time.
We had a 90-minute sit down in a bleacher on one of the back fields. We spent 30 of those minutes talking about alcoholism – his and mine. We were brothers in the old reliable of chemical dependency: booze.
Allen told me about the moment that he quit. It was 1994 and his father, Bob, the man who first mentored him as a pitcher, was near death. One night, Bob asked Neil to sit on the edge of the bed and said:
“Please give up the bottle. Your drinking is killing your mother.’’
Neil’s two older brothers were also at the house to be with their father.
“There was a six-pack of Falstaff in the refrigerator,’’ Allen recalled on that morning in Florida. “We sat at the kitchen table, drank two beers apiece, and I haven’t had a drink since.’’
I believed every word of that. One drunk to another, I believe he had made it through the trauma of his wife Lisa’s shocking death from an aneurysm in September 2012. The love and commitment he feels for their son, Bobby, now a teenager, was moving to hear about.
I was stuck in traffic on Thursday evening, lamenting this “slip’’ for Allen, and I started wondering how I’ve managed to go 35 years without a drink.
I have no “story" to tell. My personality is as addictive as ever, except with fatty foods and Diet Coke replacing Tanqueray gin.
I decided after a half-hour of contemplation on the commute that it goes no deeper than good luck — the luck being I’m enough of a realist to have no trust in myself.
Somewhere in 30 days at St. Mary’s in the spring of 1981, or in a few early years of AA meetings, this thought stuck in my brain:
“You can’t have one, because if you do, batten down the hatches … your life will be a mess.’’
I sure hope that thought remains in its current location.
And meanwhile, let’s all root for Neil Allen, a good man who lost a round with the demon but has plenty left to fight.