Shawn Conway's "Setback" and the Inevitable Backlash

The Oakland Press has committed an act of journalism, and I fear that act will be used for evil.

That may be overstating it a bit, but hear me out: MGoBrian just posted some further information quelled from an article appearing in today’s Oakland Press on 2011 commit Shawn Conway, a wide receiver from Birmingham Seaholm. The scary stuff goes here:

This won’t be a surprise to people who keep their ear to the ground, as rumors about Conway’s trouble have been flying around since late May, when the high school paper (of which there can only be one: it’s called the Highlander) published an article about an anonymous student who’d been caught breaking into lockers on tape.

Internet buzz suggested that was Conway and a couple of independent sources confirmed it; now that Conway’s been quoted saying he “did something really, really stupid” it’s better to put two and two together instead of let that vague problem float out there to get Freeped.

As Brian insinuates, there are a couple problems here. The first, of course, is that a Michigan-bound recruit committed a crime — there’s no way to positively spin that, nor should there be, and after last year’s Demar Dorsey saga this will likely command way more attention than it should. The second problem is the media, and their tendency to grab the money quote while ignoring other information that could add some context to the story. In this case, we luckily have Scott Burnstein of the Oakland Press, who provided a lot of context in today’s article:

From an early age, Conway has been fighting an uphill battle to keep his dream of playing sports at the college level alive.

When he was 4 years old, his parents got a divorce. When he was 10, his mother was sentenced to a lengthy federal prison term, subsequently ripping his family apart before his very eyes.

“My mom took me and my sisters aside and said she had to go away for a while,” he said. “I didn’t know what that meant, so all I could think to do was to ask, can I come with (you)? It was very hard for all of us. The next thing I knew, we were all in different places.”

Shawn was sent to live with his grandmother and his two sisters were placed in two separate foster homes. At that point, he didn’t have much hope.

“Everybody split on me and I didn’t think that anybody cared about my future, so I started screwing around and kind of gave up,” he said.

Conway went to two different Detroit high schools (Cass Tech and Cody) before landing at Seaholm, where he turned his life around and earned a scholarship to Michigan for his athletic exploits. Then Conway got caught on security tape taking money from lockers, which Burnstein calls a “setback” — quite possibly for good reason, as he says around the same time Conway was removed by a family court judge from his friend’s house and put under the custody of Chris Fahr, the head football coach at Seaholm. Although there isn’t a clear timeline regarding the incident at school and the change in custody, it sounds like moving in with Fahr has been a real positive for Conway:

“I think this is the best situation for his welfare and his future right now,” Fahr said of the change in guardians.

Forging a strong bond with his coach over the last two years, Conway is happy about the switch.

“I’m not just living with Coach, but I’m a part of his family,” Conway said. “They push me hard and surround me with nothing but positive energy. This has been a very good few months for me. I smile every day.”

So, at initial glance, this might look like another point for the Rich Rodriguez detractors who can holler about him bringing in criminals, lowering Michigan’s standards, and slowly turning the program into Miami North, except without all the winning. But — but! — no criminal charges were ever filed, it’s tough not to sympathize with Conway after reading about all he has went through, and it truly appears that this was a slip-up by a kid who is really trying to overcome a lot of obstacles. If it happens again, this is an entirely different story, but for now I think the only reasonable thing to do is to give Conway the benefit of the doubt.

Now, whenever the Free Press picks up on this, what do you expect the headline to be? I’m strongly leaning towards, “U-M recruit caught stealing from lockers,” and not anything close to what the Oakland Press did, which was to paint the incident into a larger picture of a kid who has, by virtue of earning his way to a Michigan scholarship, “[completed] his career U-turn.” In an age where most skim the headlines for a juicy morsel of gossip, it almost doesn’t matter what follows the headline — what leads is what matters, and we’ll see how the local media decides to portray this one. I just hope, first and foremost, that it’s fair to Shawn Conway, as well as the Michigan program and Rodriguez. Given the recent track record, I have serious doubts that my hopes will be realized.

  1. Tim said:

    Not that it would matter to the sensationalists in the local media, but Rich Rodriguez didn’t “bring in a criminal.” The alleged theft took place after he committed to Michigan. (No need for me to get into the other obvious points – no police involvement, etc. with a rational person such as yourself).

  2. Ace Anbender said:

    Thanks for pointing that out, Tim. I hope it didn’t come across as me insinuating anything of the sort — I was doing my best to channel the average anti-Rodriguez rant, which can often get difficult when you have to use “facts” and “reason.”

  3. Backusduo said:

    That was my big question, did it come after the commit. If it did, then I’m afraid this is his last chance. When someone commits to Michigan they need to know these type of things aren’t tolerated if you are a 5 star or a 3 star. You mention making a U-turn, but he hasn’t. If this occurred 2 years ago, before his coach took over, then yes I could believe he has turned his life around, but if he is still doing these type of things after the life changes, then it hasn’t gotten through to him, and unfortunately it can not be tolerated at Michigan.

    My heart wants to see him make the changes necessary to be a successful young man, but Michigan must hold to a higher standard. Everyone always deserves a 2nd chance, but there are wages for our sins. He got out of the legal issues due to his stardom, but he does not deserve to go to Michigan if he is making choices like this while representing our name.

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