Julius Wilson appears to be winning in the court of public opinion.
Even the panel on ESPN’s Around The Horn, which rarely agrees on anything, was unanimous in saying he did the right thing when he leaped into the stands to protect his father.
“It’s an unwritten rule that you are not supposed to go in the stands and enter a brawl, but it’s an overarching law in nature that you protect your kinfolk and that should supersede everything,” panelist J.A. Adande said.
From any vantage point, it’s easy to see Wilson was caught in a Catch 22.
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Be darned if you do and double darned if you don’t.
When a strapping 6-foot-5, 310-pound young man sees his father struggling to escape what he perceives a life-threatening dilemma, he must act.
Unfortunately, the Orlando Predators offensive lineman was at the wrong place, at the wrong time and living in the post Ron Artest era.
The Southeast High grad went into the stands in the St. Pete Times Forum last Saturday night in his team’s Arena Football League game against the Tampa Bay Storm and, to many, saved his father.
The league didn’t see it that way; or at least officials are not saying so publicly. The AFL slapped a six-game suspension on Wilson that it says will carry over to next season and fined him an undisclosed amount of money.
League president Jerry Kurz had to do something; he is trying to sell a product after the league shut down for a season because of financial woes. He needs to fill up his arenas, and that’s hard when fans fear they might get accosted by a player.
So, Wilson in many ways is the sacrificial lamb. He has to be punished, though six games might seem extreme.
Those who know the 26-year-old say he is a mild-mannered, laid-back person who likes to help people. During the offseason he works at a rehab center helping kids with substance abuse problems.
Walter Pollard, a retired Manatee County school teacher, taught Wilson when he was in the fourth and fifth grade at Samoset Elementary School and knows his parents.
“His family is very close, so I can understand what he did when he saw his father getting beat up,” Pollard said. “I don’t expect him to do anything else. I understand you can’t go into the stands, but any child would help his parents.
“Julius was a very easy going person. He did not get angry when the other boys teased him because he was a little on the portly side when he was growing up.”
The AFL should be held accountable in some measure.
The Tampa Bay Storm were given permission to allow their players to toss footballs into the stands during the game. Orlando was not given authorization, but some players did (including Wilson), and things got clouded.
Wilson said he didn’t know visiting teams were not allowed to do it and tossed his father a ball that others tried to take, and a fight ensued that left the 51-year-old on the ground.
In a rivalry game that has been billed The War On I-4, it should not be surprising if chaos erupts.
If the league wants sparks to fly when these teams face each other, they should exercise caution because collateral damage is a by-product in most conflicts. Wilson said there was no security nearby to help his father.
There have been varying reports on this incident. Some people said Wilson’s father was the perpetrator. Regardless, it still put Wilson in a predicament he couldn’t win.
The NBA melee that occurred at the Palace at Auburn Hills when Artest went into the stands and ignited a brawl has raised everyone’s antenna. The stands are forbidden territory for players and should be.
But the AFL needs to be careful about the type of promotions it allows so it doesn’t put players in a situation where they perceive the lives of loved ones threatened.