Winthrop players were 'trying to help'

Two Winthrop players -- senior guard Reggie Middleton and junior forward Gideon Gamble -- were arrested Oct. 25 at 2:45 a.m., just four hours before their team's 6 a.m. practice. Police in Rock Hill, S.C., said the duo had been drinking and charged them with disorderly conduct-fighting for their role in a scuffle at a McDonald's. As Diamond Leung wrote at the time, the charges led Winthrop coach Randy Peele to institute a midnight curfew for his players.

Moreover, it was another embarrassing legal run-in for the Eagles, who in April saw former leading scorer Robbie Dreher and teammate Julius Francis leave the team amidst charges of sexual misconduct. What, exactly, is going on at Winthrop?

But there are two sides to every story, and Middleton and Gamble were given permission by team officials to share their account of the incident with the The Herald. According to the players, they were not drunk -- they each had a beer at a frat party but nothing more -- and they became involved in a scuffle only after trying to help a group of females that were being threatened by a drunk and unruly McDonald's patron:

"This group came in, and one of them was being extra loud and obnoxious," Gamble said. "They started to get in a conversation with a group of young ladies, and then the one guy got really loud and started threatening them. When he stepped toward them with his hands up, that's when I approached. My exact words to him were, 'Chill out man; these are females.'"

Gamble said the man and one of the women exchanged heated words before "he stepped to her with his hands up like he was going fight her like she was a man." That, Gamble said, was when he was pushed from behind. "I immediately went to self-defense," he said.

Police arrived shortly thereafter, but, according to the players, the officers did not announce their presence or attempt to break up the fight. Instead, Middleton says, the next thing he felt was a shock from a taser. Gamble was also tased, but he pulled the shock string out of his leg and attempted to run out of the restaurant and away from the scene. Instead, he was confronted by another of the drunken group, and when he was threatened by police with the taser, he surrendered.

This is all very he-said, police-said, of course, but Middleton and Gamble's stories sure feel believable. But it still doesn't answer the question of why the two were at a frat party the night before a 6 a.m. practice, nor does it explain the late-night trip to McDonald's. Herald reporter Darin Gantt agreed, asking Middleton why the two were scarfing fast food out so late in the evening:

"I don't know man," he said. "We were just hungry."

Fair enough, right?

Of course, it will be up to Middleton and Gamble to explain their version of events in a court of law, and it will be up to a judge to figure out whether the two should be charged with disorderly conduct or whether their self-defense defense (ahem) rings true. But no matter the outcome, the lesson, as always, is this: After midnight in a college town, trouble tends to find you.

A 6 a.m. practice is there for a reason, guys. Stay in. Rest up. Avoid melees at McDonald's. Words to live by, no?