Amid outcry over the release of surveillance footage showing Zay Jackson plowing into two pedestrians with his car in a Walmart parking lot, Murray State has wisely altered its stance regarding the sophomore guard's punishment.
Earlier this month, athletic director Allen Ward said in a statement released to the Murray Ledger that Jackson is "still a very big part of the program" and will likely return to the team sometime this season. On Wednesday afternoon, Murray State reversed course and announced Jackson will be suspended for the entire 2012-13 season.
"He will not be allowed to participate in any contests during the upcoming season," Ward said in a statement. "It is my expectation that Zay will concentrate on getting the help he needs, fulfill the requirements that will be dictated by the court, go above and beyond the necessary steps required to become an exemplary citizen and prove to me and others that he is deserving of this opportunity to remain part of our program and university.
"After the season, I will assess whether or not Zay is exhibiting the traits and behavior that are worthy of the privilege to be a student at Murray State and participate in intercollegiate athletics. I am hopeful that I will find that he is."
Jackson began serving a 30-day jail sentence earlier this month after pleading guilty to charges of wanton endangerment stemming from the September incident in a Walmart parking lot that led to his arrest. Surveillance footage shows him plowing his car straight into Jason and Alia Clement following an argument, even driving a few hundred feet and speeding up with Jason still clinging to his hood before breaking to send Jason sprawling to the asphalt.
The brief jail sentence coupled by Murray State's apparent desire to have Jackson play for the Racers at some point this season sparked considerable outcry both in Murray and nationally. A short suspension was far too lenient a penalty for someone who showed such blatant and careless disregard for human life just a few months earlier.
There are going to be those who will still be angry Murray State didn't dismiss Jackson from school, but the season-long penalty has some merit.
First, it gives him a year to enter anger management, get his life together and prove he deserves the opportunity to play basketball again. And second, with a player of Jackson's potential, if it wasn't Murray State awarding him a second chance, another mid- or low-major program would have given him that opportunity.
Murray State's decision eliminates a potential distraction as the Racers prepare to try to build on last year's historic 31-win season that ended in the second round of the NCAA tournament. At the same time, the loss of Jackson is damaging because he likely would have played a greater role this season after averaging 4.9 points and 2.3 assists as a freshman.
With starters Jewaun Long and Donte Poole having graduated, Murray State needs perimeter players to complement All-American Isaiah Canaan. Coach Steve Prohm envisioned Jackson as a potential backcourt threat alongside Canaan prior to his arrest, but he acknowledged Wednesday that the season-long suspension is for the best.
"I care a great deal about Zay and am committed to seeing that he gets the help that he needs," Prohm said. "What he did was wrong and I want to apologize to everyone that has been negatively affected and embarrassed by his actions. It's not representative of our program and the impact we try to make in the community each year."