Rabalais: If Jeremy Hill is finished, there’s one person to blame

The LSU Tigers report to campus Sunday for the start of preseason football practice, with one infamous exception.

Jeremy Hill won’t be there.

Somewhere in Baton Rouge, Hill is waiting for his Aug. 16 court date. That’s when he will learn his fate from a legal system that gave him a second chance to be a star, a chance he set ablaze in April when he apparently sucker-punched a 20-year-old named Connor Baldridge in the back of the head outside a bar near LSU.

Hill ran with his trademark burst of speed into this quicksand of his own making by violating his probation. He was put on probation in January 2012 after pleading guilty to carnal knowledge of a juvenile stemming from an incident when he was a star player at Redemptorist.

The question is, does Hill get or deserve a second chance at redemption now?

The case is an unappetizing layer cake of clashing realities and morals.

Strictly on the face of it, Hill is guilty of two appalling lapses in judgment resulting in two excusable actions. For that, he has subjected himself to potential jail time. He committed a crime while on probation and put his life, his career, his future in jeopardy.

On the other hand, Hill’s transgressions have been ruled to be misdemeanors. As sickening as it is to watch Hill take those running back talents and use them to run up and strike Baldridge, then high-five Robert Bayardo (who also hit Baldridge), that he broke the law while on probation is why he’s in so much trouble. But it’s naive to think there aren’t people walking the streets who violated probation that involved a felony.

One national columnist called out LSU coach Les Miles for not casting the talented running back out already, describing Hill as a “monster” and a “vicious predator.” While Hill certainly has reaped the whirlwind with his misdeeds, it borders on irresponsibility to describe Hill that way, based on what he has done.

If Jeremy Hill is a monster, what label would you give Aaron Hernandez if he’s convicted of murder? If he’s a vicious predator, what word would you use to describe Jerry Sandusky?

Unlike the national columnist mentioned above, I’ve met Jeremy Hill. I’ve interviewed him numerous times and found him to be intelligent, polite, humorous and candid.

Clearly, though, he also is a deeply flawed young man who committed one crime and compounded it with another. A young man who put his fate in the hands of judges and prosecutors instead of keeping it where he would have found success — in his own intelligence and NFL-worthy talents. Clearly there is a disconnect in Hill’s character and judgment that has led him to the precipice he now teeters on.

Hill has and should pay for his actions, but he’s not the only one being punished. His teammates are being punished, potentially deprived of their best offensive player or at least wondering whether they will be. LSU’s fans are being punished, the people who would shower Hill with adoration if he could only exhibit some self-control.

If Hill’s ability to play football is stripped from him by the legal system, there is nothing Miles can do. If Hill is given a third chance, Miles has a decision to make: banish Hill or allow him to play.

Either way, Miles already has lost. Some will bash him for allowing Hill to play if his legal path back to the field is cleared, and even more will criticize him if LSU loses a game (or games) in which Hill might have made the winning difference.

For what he has done, for all the people he has run through a meat grinder of emotions and criticism, Hill deserves some penalty. If he is allowed to play, he should get some kind of multi-game suspension from Miles. Sitting Hill for the entire month of September, which would include the Georgia game, perhaps would be appropriate.

But does Hill deserve to be thrown away for what he did? If the law allows him to return, so should LSU — with the understanding that he has exhausted his chances. One more arrest, and that’s it.

Of course, if it’s already too late, no criticism of Judge Bonnie Jackson (who will review the status of Hill’s probation next week) or the legal system is warranted. Hill isn’t a monster, but he has been reckless and foolish.

And he can’t blame anyone but himself if his LSU career, at the moment hanging by a thread, is over.