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Joseph Goodman: Nick Saban missed the mark with Jermaine Burton

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Nick Saban says he was scared in the moments after Tennessee’s victory over Alabama, and Saban said Jermaine Burton was scared too.

This seems to be the logic Saban used when he decided to play Burton in Alabama’s 30-6 win over Mississippi State instead of suspending his gardener for hitting a female Tennessee fan. A video emerged after Alabama reached out and contacted a fan in crazy moments right after the game in which Tennessee of Burton lost 52-49.

This was bad.

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Should Burton be penalized for hitting his fan? Should he be kicked off the team for hitting a woman? These were fair questions after Saban said earlier this week that Alabama was gathering more information on what happened. Let’s not underestimate any of this because it was a serious situation that required critical attention.

Of course, this should not be said, but hitting a woman is not justifiable. Burton was wrong for what he did. Period.

After reviewing this, Saban said he had made the decision not to suspend Burton, but to counsel his player. As for Burton’s playing status, he started against Mississippi State and contributed to Saturday night’s blast victory.

Here’s everything Saban said when I asked her what her decision was to play Burton after the game against Mississippi State.

Look, I don’t know how many of you have been in such a situation, but I talked to him,” said Şaban. “He was scared. I was scared. Some of our other players got scared. I think you learn to respect other people because we have a responsibility to do that no matter the situation we’re in.

“And I talked to the guy. We got him into a counseling program. It’s not an anger management program that people are announcing today. No one said that. That’s not the problem. That’s not the problem.

“But it’s about showing other people due respect. And I did not consider it necessary to remove the man. I mean, if you knew the whole story, maybe you wouldn’t know either, but I’m not going to reveal it.”

It’s not a requirement for me, and Saban leaves out critical information for reasons that are hard to understand.

Part of me appreciates Saban, who stood by his player in this unfortunate situation and bore the brunt of criticism, but that doesn’t mean Saban made the right decision playing Burton or even allowed him to stay on the team with a scholarship. It would be right to question Şaban’s decision on this issue and to remember this moment. Some discipline seems appropriate, even warranted, for Burton’s actions.

Am I missing something here?

Apparently, according to Saban, yes, but he said he wouldn’t give an explanation as to what might happen next. Saban is a great coach and I respect him, but he hasn’t been criticized for playing a player who hit a female fan a week ago, and for evading a crucial issue that will be questioned.

I shrugged the core rhetoric from talking heads about Alabama’s competitive drift this week, but the decision to play Burton warrants a closer look.

Does playing Burton benefit Alabama? Yes. Does Saban gain a level of trust from novices for supporting a player even under these controversial circumstances? potentially.

Saban opened himself up to these questions with his decision.

There is another way to look at this. Will supporting Burton for team building help Alabama build better team chemistry? Saban said that the players were afraid.

Frightened? What are you afraid of, exactly? Was it the fans running onto the pitch or something else? It was chaotic after Tennessee’s win over Alabama, and I can understand a certain level of fear in those moments.

When asked about his decision to play Burton, Saban’s tone was oddly condescending given the circumstances. Of course, it was appropriate and necessary to ask the decision. It’s a big deal, but questions remain.

The video wasn’t clear enough to see exactly what happened, but it was still a disturbing sequence of frames. Did Burton slap the woman, as claimed by someone who claims to be a fan? It’s hard to tell from the amateur video taken from the Neyland Stadium stands, but there was definitely enough contact to question how Alabama would handle the debate.

Saban’s dismissive response missed the mark.

Consulting is vital, and it’s good that Alabama has these valuable resources for their players. He also has the best coach in college football history, but for many people it will mean something different from now on.

Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group and author of We Want Bama: A season of hope and the creation of Nick Saban’s ‘ultimate team’. You can find him on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.

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