Head bowed and tears rolling down his cheeks, Cincinnati forward Yancy Gates sat in front of a microphone on Monday afternoon and publicly apologized for his role in Saturday's ugly game-ending brawl with city rival Xavier.
"My actions were not what I'm about as a person and an athlete," Gates said. "I'm just sorry for the embarrassment I put on myself, the coaching staff, the University of Cincinnati and the city of Cincinnati. That's not what we're about. Now people all over the country just now hearing about Cincinnati, that's all they know it for. That's embarrassing. I just want to move forward and do whatever I can to make up for it."
At a time when so many universities allow their athletes and coaches to apologize via press release, credit both Cincinnati and Xavier for not having anyone hide behind a prepared statement this week. None of the four suspended Cincinnati players read from scripts when they answered questions from the media, nor did any Musketeers the previous day.
The player who had the most to say on Monday was Gates, a Cincinnati native who has received the most criticism for his actions in the melee. The 6-foot-9, 260-pound senior received a six-game suspension on Sunday after he threw several punches including one right hand that dropped unsuspecting Xavier center Kenny Frease and left him dazed and bloodied.
When TV networks showed the replay of Gates' punch over and over, the Cincinnati native feared he might be dismissed from the program. He thanked Bearcats coach Mick Cronin and athletic director Whit Babcock for allowing him to play again this season, a penalty that many argued Sunday was too lenient.
"It could have been over for me. I realize that," Gates said. "It looked bad. It was bad. The whole situation was bad. That's the only thing that kept going through my mind is that it might be over, how a lot of people are going to want me never to wear the jersey again."
The fallout from the brawl has been such an embarrassment to Cincinnati and Xavier that some have suggested the Crosstown Shootout go on hiatus. Babcock said he and Xavier counterpart Mike Bobinski have not made a decision yet, but they will consider keeping the series the same, playing the game at a neutral site or discontinuing it altogether.
Referees ended Saturday's game with 9.4 seconds left when the brawl broke out, declaring host Xavier a 76-53 winner. Eight players have been suspended between the two schools, four on each side.
Babcock defended the decision to levy six-game suspensions against Gates, reserve center Cheikh Mbodj and freshman forward Octavius Ellis rather than sitting them out for longer or dismissing them altogether. Both Babcock and Cronin watched video of the fight and spoke to officials from other schools who have endured similar incidents before deciding on a penalty.
"After conversations with the president and doing our due dilligence, we were confident in the number of six games," Babcock said. "We looked at do we stagger them in? Do we take some nonconference games off and do them in the Big East? We felt like it needed to be an immediate suspension and it needed to have some teeth to it."
Gates knows many people believe his college basketball career should be over, but he's focused on moving forward and making amends. He and his fellow suspended teammates will enter anger management counseling and will do some community service in hopes of helping kids learn from their mistakes.
Although Cronin said Saturday that Xavier's trash talking had been an instigator for the brawl, Gates refused to make excuses for what he did.
"I take responsibilities for my actions no matter what was going on," he said. "I'm one of the older guys on the team. I've been here the longest. I should have grabbed the freshmen instead of going out there and throwing punches."
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