Goshay column: A tragedy in three acts

By Charita Goshay
More Content Now

In a perfect world, Bri’onte Dunn would have played in the Super Bowl.

Instead of facing sportswriters today, Dunn is looking at criminal charges in Columbus, Ohio, the third act in a story of a promising life detoured.

Dunn was a man among boys. As a 6-foot-1, 200-pound running back, he amassed 5,479 career yards for GlenOak High School in Plain Township, Ohio, and was twice-selected for the All-Ohio First Team.

His was the kind of talent that becomes evident early: The 5-year-old who can play both sides of the ball. The 8-year-old linebacker who can see a play before it develops. The 12-year-old who does not shirk from the violence in football but rather dives in with a fearlessness that can’t be coached.

It made him a five-star, must-have recruit, with Ohio State winning the prize.

As a starting freshman, Dunn scored two touchdowns during the Buckeyes’ 12-0 season in 2012.

But Dunn’s troubles seemed to begin before he made it to Columbus. During a traffic stop by Alliance police in July 2012, Dunn’s female passenger was charged with having a pipe allegedly containing marijuana residue.

Now, he certainly wasn’t the first teenager to do something so shortsighted and lunk-headed.

Who among us, didn’t?

Had it only ended at that traffic stop.

Prince of the city

In 2016, Dunn was dismissed from the Ohio State team for violating team rules related to domestic violence. One of the nation’s premier football programs, everyone knows that Ohio State football is a direct conduit to the NFL, one which can make instant millionaires of young men who stand out, even in a vast and deep sea of talent.

Ohio State athletes who remain in Columbus after their playing days are treated like princes of the city. Because Americans are enamored with star athletes, they’re granted access to opportunities their peers never see.

What if Dunn, who to his credit graduated from Ohio State, had been able to make different choices to avoid the kind of situation that resulted in his getting jettisoned from the team?

It doesn’t matter who you are: Getting kicked out of one of the country’s best sports programs has to be a traumatic experience, one that can slingshot your life into a far-flung place, blurring your judgment and causing you to compound your mistakes.

Third act

In 2017, Dunn was indicted but acquitted on a rape and kidnapping charge, but last month, he was arrested and charged with felony drug possession in Columbus after a woman he was with overdosed.

Police reported that they found 20 grams of cocaine in the residence.

This is not an indictment but rather a lament and grief at seeing such youth and talent wasted.

It’s not an indictment because we’ve all dropped the ball. Built into the human experience is the space for error. Everyone has those decisions, those moments we wish we could undo.

If it’s true that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, it begs the question, what else has to happen before we figure it out?

We’ve seen too many cases of young athletes who squandered all the second chances they were given; whose promise was lost in the fog of bad decision-making enabled by people who have their own interests in mind.

But we’ve also known of athletes and other young adults who find a way to move beyond their youth, who grow up and get their heads on straight, even after they’ve missed out on that fleeting chance to play professionally.

We root for such people, even more than if they still were on the field.

Bri’onte Dunn is still a very young man. There’s no reason we shouldn’t root for him to find his way to a positive and productive life.

Charita Goshay

Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or charita.goshay@cantonrep.com. On Twitter: @cgoshayREP