Hester can outrun Miami allegations

In Chicago, we care about Devin, not Nevin.

In Chicago, we care about Derrick Rose hitting the open jumper, not the open textbook.

In Chicago, we have our priorities straight.


We don't care if Devin Hester got paid in rims and rings at The U or whether Rose deserved the University of Memphis. Most of us adults assume some malfeasance comes with college athletics. It sounds cynical, but it's not. It's called being realistic.

One of the perks of my job writing columns about Chicago sports is that, thanks to the relative insignificance of Northwestern and DePaul, in comparison to our pro teams, I don't have to worry about chasing the shadow stories of college sports.

Let's be honest, I think Northwestern players pay boosters to watch their games.

So as you can imagine I'm not too worked up over Devin Hester's culpability in the blockbuster story about rogue boosters at the University of Miami.

Hester rejuvenated a flagging Chicago Bears career last season with his return to prominence, so to speak. He has proven that he can outpace everyone on a field, and there is no question he'll outrun the new allegations against him, much like Rose did two years ago. That's a good thing.

For now, Hester has to deal with the extra attention. In the span of a day, Hester, who has flashy moves, flashy cars, but at times a soft-spoken personality, has twice refused to elaborate to reporters about his connection with jailed booster Nevin Shapiro, as detailed in a Yahoo! Sports expose about rampant cheating on the University of Miami's football program.

On Tuesday night, he told reporters: "I didn't know the guy. I have nothing to say about it."

Not his finest cutback.

Shapiro provided Yahoo! reporters with a laundry list of details about his relationship with Hester, not to mention photographs of himself and Hester, not to mention autographed action shots where he calls Shapiro his "big cuz 4 life."
Obviously, this isn't innuendo.

On Wednesday in Bourbonnais, Hester made himself available to reporters, a very good step. Still, he stonewalled reporters. (Note: I wasn't there.)

"I'm here to talk about Chicago Bears football," he told the media. "Other than that, I have no comment.''

And that's about where this story will end locally. Maybe Hester will talk a little more in vague generalities, maybe he'll open up about it, but the idea of him spilling his heart out and begging for forgiveness isn't going to happen. It never does. It shouldn't.

What's there to gain? He broke rules, sure, but there are worse rules to break.

I asked Chicago-based agent Mark Bartelstein what his advice would be to a client in Hester's shoes.

"You've got to get the facts, and find out what the truth is behind everything," he said in a phone conversation. "As you know, a lot of what's written isn't always true. Once you get the facts, address it and put it behind you. One thing you don't do is say something that can come back later and be proven to be wrong."

So, um, in other words, don't say you don't know the dude, when you obviously know the dude. Like on a kick return, you want to find an open lane.

Two years ago, Rose's lawyer talked to reporters when the allegations of grade fixing at Simeon, SAT duplicity (Rose was found by the NCAA of having an invalidated test score) and illegal benefits at Memphis broke soon after his rookie season. Rose addressed the reports at the Chicago Bulls' media day a few months later. He denied everything in the most disarming, congenial manner possible.

It hasn't come back to haunt him yet. Again, MVP > SAT.

I admire the work of the Yahoo! reporters who used shoe-leather reporting and dogged research to illustrate the harmful effect of a money-lavishing booster on a major program. The story, ripe with prostitutes, expensive rims and other extravagances for the college athlete, was important and memorable, graphic, raw and titillating.

Still, I find myself unmoved by Hester's place in this story -- guilty or innocent. Given the salacious nature of Shapiro's stories, Hester getting some money to buy his then-girlfriend an engagement ring is kind of, well, quaint.

The rims, however, are just cliché.

Listen, we can use this massive story to argue about the state of college athletics, but what's the point? There have always been predictable patterns of behavior in this world, and there's no way to totally police it. For everyone who is shocked at some of the allegations in this story, every one of them has happened somewhere else in the past century.

If you think Hester is a bad guy for breaking the rules, so be it. But you won't hear that talk from me.

All we should want out of Hester is athletic honesty. We want to see him run really fast on a kick return (clean of performance enhancers) and maybe, just maybe, develop into an every-down target for Jay Cutler. A Bears fan wants Hester to be mature now, not then.

If you're still really into the idea that athletes have to be role models, check out Hester's column in "Chicago Parent" magazine or his Twitter feed, which is typically rife with pictures of his son, Devin Jr. He is a guy your kids can look up to, regardless of his rim-buying, meal-taking past.

Hester doesn't have to tell reporters what really happened at Miami, but I hope he cooperates with any forthcoming NCAA questions. Typically honest and more introspective than you'd think, Hester would be an interesting interview on this subject, because he could shed light on a situation with which many of us are unfamiliar.

I'd love to know the honest truth about what it's like to be a poor athlete on a rich campus in one of the glitziest cities in the world.

When Rose's troubles came to the surface, I wrote that his play would be what would elevate him from this temporary morass and that's exactly what happened. He lay loid that summer and cashed in the goodwill from his rookie year. The story died and his legend grew.

"Winning takes care of a lot of ills," Bartelstein said.

Rose's relationship with his former college coach, John Calipari, is still strong, and he is still hospitable and friendly with the media.

After all, who really cares that the University of Memphis lost a banner? Who really cares that sterling reputation of "The U" has been tarnished?

Around here, no one. And that's fine by me.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.