The lead stories looked sadly familiar last week. On Friday, Missoula County District Court Judge Karen Townsend sentenced former Griz running back Beau Donaldson to prison for the rape of a longtime acquaintance. Testimony from the victim, her family and a friend was detailed and crushing, and marked the first time a victim had her say in court since a string of local sexual assault allegations, many involving members of the University of Montana football team, first surfaced in late 2011. The hearing also served as the latest reminder that the NCAA and Departments of Justice and Education have open investigations into UM and its athletics department.
On the same day Donaldson received his sentence, another former football player appeared before Justice of the Peace John Odlin on charges of robbery and assault. Andrew Badger was among a group of men believed to have beaten a Jay's Mart clerk with baseball bats before stealing the cash register. He and three others face a Jan. 31 preliminary hearing. Timothy Parks, yet another former player accused of helping with the heist, posted $10,000 bond on a charge of fabricating or tampering with evidence. The group reportedly needed the cash to pay rent.
Griz Nation will point to a key word in both of these shameful stories: former players. These are problems in the past. Institutional changes have been made, coaches and directors fired. But if the Griz and their fans understand anything, it's tradition and reputation. For decades, those things have been associated with a winning program and rabid following. Now, tradition and reputation have turned negative. When things go as bad as they have in recent years off the field, the image of Griz gone wild lingers. Unfortunately, it's not going to disappear anytime soon, especially with investigations still ongoing.
Which leads to another familiar story from last week: The men's basketball team won, again, earning its 19th straight victory over a Big Sky opponent. That team doesn't appear in the police blotter, doesn't lead local newscasts, rarely makes the front page; it just wins. If Griz Nation is looking for something to rally around, it's inside Dahlberg Arena. In fact, it kicks off a four-game home stretch Thursday night. And wouldn't you know, plenty of tickets are still available.