Bradley’s Buzz: Flouting public opinion, Bama lets Brandon Miller play

Brandon Miller, whom a Tuscaloosa detective identified as the transporter of a gun used in a shooting that left Jamea Harris dead, continues to represent the University of Alabama as a basketball player. The school has decided this is at least semi-defensible.

Said Bama athletic director Greg Byrne, speaking on an ESPN podcast: “Our role in a criminal investigation is … not to conduct our own investigation and not to interfere with (law enforcement) efforts.”

Then: “We do have a duty to evaluate whether anyone in our program has violated the rules, policies or standards of the university. We make that evaluation based on facts.”

Those facts, Byrne said, are that “Miller never left his vehicle and was not involved in the collection of the weapon.”

Meaning: The gun was in Miller’s car, which he drove to the scene of a shooting for which two men, one a former Bama teammate of Miller’s, have been charged with capital murder. The gun wasn’t Miller’s. An attorney representing Miller says his client didn’t touch the gun, which was “concealed under some clothing in the back seat.”

Regarding Miller, the Tuscaloosa district attorney told “There’s nothing we can charge him with.”

Thus did the university choose to allow Miller to play in a nationally televised game Wednesday at South Carolina. He scored 41 points – he might be the nation’s best collegian – in an overtime victory. He scored the game-winning basket despite taking what appeared to be 8-1/2 steps before availing himself of a dribble.

During the game, South Carolina fans chanted, “Lock him up.” Afterward, Bama coach Nate Oats said: “It could’ve been a distraction. But Brandon showed up.”

Nearly everyone not affiliated with the University of Alabama agrees the sight of Miller playing for the Crimson Tide looks bad. Thing is, the university appears to be the only body with oversight in this matter. The DA’s office has washed its hands. The SEC has said nothing. The NCAA … well, does the NCAA even exist?

Alabama leads the SEC. It was ranked No. 1 overall by the NCAA basketball committee’s midseason reveal of tournament seedings. (So that’s how the NCAA spends its time – compiling seedings that don’t yet matter.) This might be its best team ever. Miller, a freshman, will be headed to the NBA come April. If he’s forced to miss the duration of the season, the Tide can forget reaching its first Final Four.

He had a gun in his car. He drove to meet Darius Miles, the now-ex-teammate, who texted: “I need my joint.” Alabama’s AD claimed Miller was en route before the text was sent – “already almost there,” Byrne said.

What’s clear is that the only administrative body with the power to make Miller sit is the body bending over backwards to excuse him. In the infamous words of coach Nate Oats, Miller was in the “wrong spot at the wrong time.” Never mind that Miller drove, apparently of his own free will, to that place – with a gun in his back seat. (Oats has since sought to modify remarks he admitted “came across poorly.”)

It looks bad, Miller playing. But here we ask: Should Alabama reverse its nothing-to-see-here stance, what grounds would it give for the about-face? That letting him play “looks bad”? That everyone with blog space and a functioning keyboard has pilloried the Tide for its insensitivity?

Harris’ mother told USA Today: “It’s just unimaginable … It’s like, OK, slap on the wrist and go play ball.”

Not to be flip, but did Alabama even slap Miller’s wrist?

We are – or we’re supposed to be – a nation of laws. Authorities cannot find any law Miller broke. From Jim Standridge, Miller’s lawyer: “All the events (surrounding the shooting) are clearly captured on video. There is no dispute about Brandon’s activities (that) evening.”

For better or worse, we’re also a nation of guns. Had it suspended Miller, the university could have sent the message that student-athletes shouldn’t travel in circles that involve firearms. Had Bama done so, it might have found itself in court, fighting an injunction contending that “it looks bad” is insufficient grounds for disciplinary action.

Alabama made a choice. It wasn’t a great choice, but once the DA absolved Miller, there were no great choices. Jamea Harris was killed on Jan. 15. Miller had been allowed to play all along. With no charges brought against him, could Bama say, “Sorry, but NOW you’re suspended”?

Yes, it looks bad. But having done what it did – i.e., nothing – Alabama has little recourse but to let Miller play on and hope the furor abates. Which it won’t. Non-actions also have consequences.

The above is part of a regular exercise, written and curated by yours truly, available to all who register on for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll and pithy quotes, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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