Pitt Panthers backup running back Jason Douglas helped add to the team's off-field woes when he was arrested this week for a hit-and-run incident. Douglas is accused of driving under the influence (he's also under drinking age) and hitting a pedestrian while failing to stop. The victim is reportedly in pretty serious condition and has sustained several injuries.
The incident was just the latest in a line of issues the team has had over the past year. Earlier this year, LB Elijah Fields was removed from the team for disciplinary reasons. One of the things that landed him in hot water was posing with a large amount of money on Twitter, bringing up the question of if he was paid to play for the school. Fields had previous issues and the photo was seen as the last straw. He was expected to heavily contribute to the team this year and his dismissal was a sign that head coach Dave Wannstedt was willing to boot players of significance from the program.
Starting defensive end Jabaal Sheard ran into trouble this Summer when he was charged with assault, throwing a man through a glass window. It looked like Sheard was bound for trouble until he was able to plead guilty to lesser charges. Coach Wannstedt felt that the time he was away from the team was essentially enough of a punishment and after saying Sheard would have additional internal discipline, he was soon reinstated and did not miss any playing time.
Now Jason Douglas' incident marks the third time in less than a year when significant off-field issues have plagued Pitt players.
If what is being reported is correct, Wannstedt needs to come down hard on Douglas. I don't say that because he is a third-string running back, I say it because if Douglas is able to skate on this, Pitt will look like a laughingstock. Underage drinking happens all over the country and while a crime, is a little easier to overlook. But to get into a car after drinking more than the legal limit, hit a pedestrian, and then not stop to offer help is inexcusable. Of further annoyance, Douglas tried to use his status as a player to get off the hook:
Police said he was slow to comply with their orders to exit the vehicle, and when he spoke without prompting, he said, "Hey, I play for Pitt football. Please, don't arrest me," according to the affidavit that supports his arrest.
Starting linebacker Dan Mason was also apparently in the car, but was not charged with anything. But I'll take it a step further. If Mason was aware that Douglas hit a pedestrian and did not stop, while he may not face charges, Wannstedt needs to take action against him. Not action as severe as Douglas', but I don't think a suspension of some sort would be too much. I believe that Wannstedt would agree with the statement that he wants his players to be model as well. If that's the case, sitting idly by while a person is hit and seriously injured should be cause for some consequences.
Right now all of the details aren't out yet, so it would be unfair to make a decision yet. But if the facts are as they've been presented, then swift action needs to be taken. And while it shouldn't have any bearing on the decision, the fact that Douglas is only a little-used reserve should make Wannstedt's decision that much easier. It's true that as a head coach, Wannstedt can't stop his players from going out drinking then getting behind the wheel of a car. But his actions against players who do that can prohibit it from happening again. Anything less than a complete dismissal would be letting Douglas off the hook.