For the past three years, ever since he was denied the opportunity to try out for the University of Utah football team in the fall of 2002, it has appeared that Sione Havili is everything he and his many admirers say he is: a remorseful, rehabilitated young man genuinely sorry for participating in the firebombing of a house when he was a high-school teenager.
Spurned by the Utes after finishing a seven-month jail term after being convicted of the firebombing, a felony, Havili left his Salt Lake City home to pursue his college football career by playing elsewhere, first at El Camino Junior College in Southern California and, for the past two years, at Texas Tech, where, as a defensive player, he made the all-academic team in the Big 12 Conference. He's since transferred to Weber State for his senior season set to begin next Tuesday when the Wildcats begin August two-a-days so he can play closer to home and on the offensive side of the ball for former Utah coach Ron McBride, the man he wanted to play for at Utah back in 2002.
Based on this impressive resume, Havili took his lumps, paid his price and moved on like a champion making any apparent disbelievers, such as the Ute administrators who turned him away three years ago, look like they shouldn't have been so stern in denying him his due.
But that's before adding the latest detail: that Havili is suing University of Utah athletic director Chris Hill and former school president Bernie Machen, alleging they denied his civil rights by making an "arbitrary and capricious" decision, providing no basis for appeal, when they refused to let him represent the university by wearing its football uniform.
The litigation makes it obvious that the Ute chiefs had the right inclination after all.
Sione Havili hasn't moved past anything. He hasn't let a thing go. He doesn't want to move forward, he wants to strike back.He is bound and determined to fight a battle he can only win by not fighting.
Havili has said the lawsuit is not about money, it's about principle. But what principle? By attempting to impugn the integrity and leadership of Hill and Machen, who he says did not follow due process, he is unavoidably impugning his own character.
How can he, with a straight face, file a lawsuit over a decision that was rendered based on the fact he is a convicted felon? How can he possibly accept responsibility for his actions by not accepting the consequences of those actions?
In the list of important lessons athletes are supposed to learn, that one tops the list.
If Havili's sad experience is capable of helping others, it's not through a demand for due process, it's as a sobering case in point that the poor choices you make as a teenager can absolutely come back and dump you for a big loss.
Getting into the college of your choice, let alone on the football team, is not an inalienable right. Goofing off, cutting class, blowing off tests, getting in trouble with the law, it can, and usually will, come back to haunt you.
That's the message Sione Havili should be shouting from the rooftops. If he really wanted to make a difference, if he had really learned his lesson, he wouldn't be fighting for his civil rights under the guise that it will help the next guy, he would be spreading the word among as many high school jocks as humanly possible to Not Be Stupid.It was Sione Havili who took himself out of the running to play for the U. of U. To suggest that Hill or Machen or anyone else kept him from his dream misses the point entirely. If he's going to sue anyone, he ought to sue himself.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and faxes to 801-237-2527.