Nick Saban's explanation of Jermaine Burton incident sets a dangerous precedent | Opinion

Blake Toppmeyer

I cannot know what Alabama wide receiver Jermaine Burton felt while he exited Neyland Stadium as Tennessee fans rushed the field following the Vols’ upset of the Crimson Tide.

But I think I have a good idea of what one Tennessee fan must have been feeling as she ran onto the field with thousands of her peers. The woman epitomized the sheer joy that comes from being a college student and seeing your team’s last-second field goal vanquish a rival that Tennessee had not beaten since 2006.

I thought Nick Saban should have benched Burton for at least one game for what came next.

While the woman ran past Burton, the video that she posted to TikTok of the incident showed that he turned, raised his right arm and made contact with her head with enough force that she momentarily stopped running and grabbed her head. Burton continued to the locker room.

Saban chose to play Burton, one of the team’s best receivers, in an important game against Mississippi State.

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Worse than the lack of discipline, though, was Saban’s defense of his decision.

Saban tried to gaslight us into believing that Burton – a 200-pound athlete wearing pads and holding his helmet – was scared and that’s why he struck a petite coed who had juked to her left to give Burton an unobstructed path to the locker room.

"I don’t know how many of you have ever been in a situation like that, but I talked to him. He was scared. I was scared. Some of our other players were scared," Saban said after Alabama's 30-6 victory over Mississippi State to rebound from the loss to Tennessee. "I think you learn to respect other people, because we have a responsibility to do that regardless of the circumstance that we’re in. I talked to the guy. We have him in a counseling program.

"I didn’t think it was necessary to suspend the guy,” Saban added. "If you knew the whole story, maybe you wouldn’t either. But I’m not going to divulge that."

You’d have to be a Saban sycophant to buy this explanation.

Saban would have done better to simply offer these truths: No police report was filed on the incident, fans aren’t supposed to be on the field, and, while Burton's actions were regrettable, the incident did not appear to cause the student serious physical harm. So, Burton played.

Instead of saying that, Saban offered a farcical explanation that sets a dangerous precedent. He provided a playbook to any Alabama player who harms a fan in any future field-rushing. Just tell Saban you were scared.

Should the woman have been on the field? SEC rules say no.

Rushing the field comes with a risk of injury. Dangerous situations can arise for fans and players alike when thousands of revelers – some of whom are drunk – storm the field.

However, similar scenes unfold regularly in college football without players striking fans in the head.

LSU fans rushed the field Saturday after its victory over Ole Miss. No videos surfaced of altercations between players and fans.

Field rushings are common after Alabama losses. Saban should have a clear standard for his players: Exit the field quickly, control what you can control, and do not seek to harm anyone.

The incident between Burton and the woman was not, apparently, his first altercation with a fan. Another video appeared to show Burton reaching out at a different fan during his exit.

Still, by the time Burton reached the woman he ultimately struck, he was nearly to the tunnel leading to the locker room. He had a clear path. He made a bad decision.

If you believe Burton should have played Saturday, then we disagree.

If you believe that, because fans should not have been on the field, Burton’s action was justified, then we strongly disagree.

But if you believe Burton raised his arm and struck this bypassing college female in the head because he felt scared, then you are a sheep.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.