Vahe Gregorian

Why KU coach Bill Self is right to take measured approach on Carlton Bragg

Stop us if you’ve heard this one, or something like it, a seemingly never-ending refrain in sports these days.

University of Kansas sophomore forward Carlton Bragg was arrested and charged Friday with misdemeanor battery, alleged by the Douglas County District Attorney to have struck his girlfriend and pushed her down some stairs during an argument.

If the legal system determines the event was as clear and simple as that, KU and coach Bill Self must demonstrate zero tolerance. And the school should make a strong statement of condemnation even if it’s murkier and more complicated but essentially the same.

If he’s guilty, particularly in light of accusations of university negligence amid recent scandals related to assaults of women by a KU football player, and precisely because of the prominence of the basketball program, Kansas should make a reassuring and bold declaration that this is unacceptable here.

If he’s guilty, he needs to understand why it’s disturbing to see him grinning in his mug shots, a look that suggests anything and everything from obliviousness to smugness to some form of altered state that sneers at what he’s accused of.

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The “if” here, though, is paramount, the line between rushing to judgment and the assumption of innocence until proven guilty.

The responsible, reasonable stance for the moment is to first remember that Bragg is facing a misdemeanor charge to which he has pleaded not guilty — not one for which he’s been convicted.

After the third-ranked Jayhawks beat Nebraska 89-72 on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse, Self was asked about the latest on this and made a point all should heed.

Balancing respect for the allegation and alleged victim and fairness to Bragg is easy for him, because he doesn’t presume to know what happened.

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He called it a “serious situation,” but he also labeled it a “matter-of-fact deal” — meaning not that it’s routine but an emphasis on facts.

“The reality of it is that it’s not anything that I need to try to determine what happened,” he said. “That’s up to the police, up to the people up on campus …

“There is no way that we do our own investigation on what happens.”

Self knows that’s out of his jurisdiction, for one thing, and it would obviously be a disgrace if he were perceived as attempting to meddle in or influence the process.

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In fact, though he acknowledged asking Bragg what happened, he was careful even to downplay that.

“To be candid with you, it really doesn’t make any difference what (a player) says transpired or didn’t transpire,” he said. “There are professionals who will determine what transpired. …

“(And) determinations should be made after you have some facts.”

The facts of the matter were made cloudier, at least for the time being, when Bragg’s alleged victim was held in Douglas County jail for nearly 24 hours on suspicion of battery under the same case number as Bragg.

She was then released without being charged on Saturday afternoon.

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Though the inexplicable twist suggests there may be more to the episode, that in no way in itself absolves Bragg.

If her arrest potentially suggests he was left in a position to defend himself in the incident — and that, too, is a big if — the line between doing that and shoving her down stairs is obvious.

Moreover, turning away, walking away or even running away is the appropriate answer to such a conflict rather than a 6-foot-10, 240-pound athlete standing his ground against a woman.

But even suggesting any of these potential scenarios moves in the direction of the trap of speculation.

That’s why even if you might want to see Self take a more outspoken approach, even if, like me, you didn’t like seeing Bragg with the team on Saturday (he watched the game against Nebraska on the bench in street clothes), Self’s pragmatic and measured posture on this is deft and respectful.

Asked about Bragg being on the bench, Self said the indefinite suspension was punishment enough for the moment and that to banish him entirely would be saying he is no longer “part of your family.”

There will be ample time to disown Bragg from the family, or at least punish him so severely it makes a major statement, if it’s called for after authorities complete their work and the justice system speaks.

But until then, Self is right to take a neutral public approach that he presumably embraces privately, too.

As he recalled what he said to Bragg, Self said he told him he wasn’t “ ‘choosing guilt or innocence ... but you obviously will not participate until we find out what’s going on.’ ”

Those answers will come from a place few can get to — even as many might assume otherwise.

“I really don’t know (what happened), I really don’t,” Self said. “And I’ll stand by that until somebody in charge educates me on the situation.”

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

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