Video evidence is rarely this clear, even now that it’s far more ubiquitous then when I was prosecuting violent crime. The relevant part between Johnson, the freshman FSU player charged with misdemeanor battery and the woman he brutalized, plays out in about nine seconds. They should be enough to end his NCAA career forever.
If you have a doubt, and you can stomach it, follow second by second what was released by the 2nd Judicial Circuit State’s Attorney today.
At 1:55, Johnson approaches the bar and the woman he eventually punches. They make contact, and she turns and confronts him. If this is as it appears, namely a guy in a crowded place pushing his way to the bar and a woman becoming annoyed and confronting him over being pushy, it’s a scene I’ve personally witnessed play out hundreds of times, usually to no more than a few choice words and dirty looks. At 1:56, she actually raises her fist, but seems to be smiling or smirking. By 1:58, Johnson has grabbed it and pushed it down, and the two struggle until around 2:01. About a second later, she actually does “throw” a punch at Johnson, but it’s a slow, harmless attempt that he appears to easily avoid.
Then comes 2:04.
At that moment, and with a speed that makes her “punch” seem like something in slow motion, Johnson rears his right arm back and then shatters the entire scene with a blow nearly impossible to follow in real time. It not only connects with her face in a way that leaves her stunned and grasping the bar to steady herself, but it also sends pitchers and cups flying. Her hair flies wildly as her head snaps sideways. Given Johnson’s size and athletic prowess, it’s more than a breathtaking display of anti-female violence. It’s potentially life threatening.
So far I haven’t seen arguments made (as were made richly and stupidly after Ray Rice brutally punched his then-fiance into unconsciousness) that Johnson was provoked somehow or “defending himself.” In any event, they’d be irrelevant also. Call me old fashioned or even sexist; I’ve been hit by women, albeit rarely, and I would never strike one back. But even under as gender-free an analysis as we can make, Johnson met a harmless swat with a vicious, cocked punch, and at a woman a fraction of his size.
To be clear: Legally, he deserves the exact same treatment as anyone else in his position. Given a black eye on the victim that prosecutors could still see days later, in my view he should spend at least a long weekend in jail, bear a criminal conviction, and maybe probation. Academically, he should be able to continue his education at FSU if he can do so appropriately on scholarly merit alone. He should certainly be able to rehabilitate himself, perhaps after serious mediation and reflection. But his NCAA playing career should be over. Not just at Florida State but everywhere. I concede readily I know almost nothing of his athletic career or his character otherwise. I also lack experience with college football itself other than as a casual observer, let alone with disciplining NCAA athletes and determining what standards are most appropriate when meting out punishments for off-the-field conduct.
Regardless, I’ll say confidently that Johnson should be banned from college sports forever, period. This view is not about retribution or disgust with Johnson himself; I find his behavior disgusting, but I have no desire to forever demonize an adolescent for what might well involve lingering impulse control issues. Further, American football, as much as it also exemplifies strict discipline and the plain decency of sportsmanship at its best, also rewards blunt force and quick, violent reaction. It has certainly rewarded Johnson in that regard, and the mixed signals have perhaps proved toxic. Similar to the challenge the military has in developing warriors who can still act morally and with grave restraint whether or not under direct command, football demands line-drawing and a delicate balance between the unleashing of violence and the crucial mettle of self-control.
Still, Andre Johnson’s stunning failure to make these distinctions is exactly why, as unfortunate as it is for him, he must be made an example of and stripped of a privilege he squandered in a pitiless, inexcusable rage. Nothing short of that sends a message sufficient in terms of moral clarity and the rightful demands of a civilized society.
For football, nine seconds is enough.