As Tomahawk Nation reported over the weekend, Florida State football running back Mario Pender was arrested for battery and obstruction after allegedly choking a woman and dragging her by the hair, and subsequently dismissed from the team.
Let's start with the on-the-field impact and go from there to the more important issues. Pender was not going to start. As we all know, that's Dalvin Cook's job as, arguably, the best running back in the country. In fact, Pender may not have cracked third string. He's a talented back, sure, but he's struggled to remain healthy. He was a rare sight at FSU's 2016 spring practices while fighting back from a collapsed lung, and, in all likelihood, had probably been passed by Jacques Patrick and Ryan Green as Cook's backups. Pender was also using the spring to work on academics, which suggests the possibility that he may not have been eligible. He was also academically ineligible for the 2013 season.
As far as those backups go, Green is the most comparable to Pender, both in size and game. Green is listed on the Seminoles' spring roster as 5-11, 205; Pender is at 5-10, 203 (although it's interesting to note that the Tallahassee Police Department arrest report for Pender has him at 6-0, 195). As far as what we've seen of each, most recently, Pender showed more elusiveness, but Green ran with more power. And both were adept at catching the ball out of the backfield.
Broadening a bit means mentioning the fact that Florida State remains committed to more scholarship athletes than the 85 scholarships it has to allot. Translation: the 'Noles had to trim the roster. Pender went ahead and made that choice for Florida State with his actions. Also, Pender was a redshirt senior, so it's not like his dismissal carries long-range repercussions on the field. Assuming all class of 2016 signees qualify FSU will have to trim two more spots.
Since Florida State has dealt with accusations of assault and domestic violence in the past as part of a larger framework of football players getting in trouble with the law in Tallahassee, the charges against Pender don't exist in a vacuum. Florida State typically waits to see if a player is guilty before deciding punishment, but it has shown the willingness to act more swiftly if it has superior knowledge of an incident.
Last summer, the 'Noles did not tarry in cutting ties with former Florida Mr. Football award winner De'Andre Johnson after a video surfaced of Johnson striking a woman at a Tallahassee bar.
Florida State Athletics evidently knew enough about the details of Pender's case (which have now surfaced) to move forward with a quick dismissal. While choking a woman is enough to be the first and last straw for anyone, it's worth noting that Pender had not stayed out of trouble in the past -- he had no margin for error.
Pender's arrest also involves more than his alleged assault because he initially refused to get in the cop car until a police supervisor and Jimbo Fisher arrived at the scene, a classic example of Pender exhibiting a sense of entitlement. Fisher did not come to the scene and Pender eventually got in the car but not before earning a charge of resisting arrest.
It's unrealistic to think that any program can control the entirety of its players at all times. But each school does have the responsibility of doing the right thing when athletes err. And in that regard, FSU made the obvious decision and made it quickly.
However, the incident raises serious questions as to whether Pender should have been on the team in the first place. In high school, he was accused of domestic violence (punching a woman in the mouth) and grand theft (refusing to give her back her car), but was not charged after the woman refused to cooperate.
Given that Jimbo Fisher has publicly said he has "no tolerance" for violence against women, it's safe to assume that Pender would not have been at Florida State had he been convicted in high school. But the similarity between the accusation against Pender in high school and Saturday's illustrates the difficulty universities face in deciding whether to admit a person who has not been charged or convicted, especially if it involves the actions of a minor. Schools must do their due diligence to investigate the underlying actions in what continues to be a difficult balancing act for everyone involved.