Dime approached a heckler from Colorado’s student section during halftime Thursday, pretended like he was going to shake his hand, then slapped him across the face — apparently making contact with another student on the follow-through.
I hate writing columns like this.
Censuring someone you like — or in this case, someone everybody likes — might be the most deflating part of the job.
But after giving it ample thought, and after talking to a number of intelligent, empathetic people, I feel strong about this unfortunately harsh conclusion: Malik Dime should be suspended for the rest of the season.
As you’re probably aware by now, Washington’s injured forward was involved in an altercation with Colorado fans during halftime of the Huskies’ game Thursday. After enduring barbs throughout the first half, Dime approached a heckler from Colorado’s student section, pretended like he was going to shake his hand, then slapped him across the face — apparently making contact with another student on the follow-through.
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Dime later apologized to the victims, who won’t press charges and said they have “a lot of love for Malik.” But Dime still crossed an uncrossable line, and as a result shouldn’t be allowed back between them.
I know — brutal. Spend some time around Dime and not only will you think he’s the nicest guy on the Huskies, but maybe the nicest on campus. Goofy, warm and forever approachable, the Senegal native has been called the team’s most popular player, and that’s likely still the case today.
Additionally, this is Malik’s final year of eligibility. Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar suspended him “indefinitely” Friday afternoon, but if that suspension were to run through the end of the season, it would mean Dime missing out on senior night and any other chance at a proper send-off.
That genuinely sucks — especially for a guy who has already missed several weeks with a broken finger. But sometimes really good people make really bad decisions, and despite Dime’s otherwise exemplary character, he has to face the consequences the way anybody else would.
Just think about what could have happened Thursday. The students Dime hit reacted in an astonishingly forgiving manner, but in a parallel universe, that slap could have started a riot.
CU’s student section — composed of hecklers that have rankled a plethora of players and coaches in the past — is notoriously rowdy as is. And when you mix a strike to the face with 1,000 kilowatts of adrenaline, it’s a brawl waiting to happen.
Ron Artest struck a fan in the Detroit area more than 12 years ago, and it set off the ugliest melee in modern-day sports. Was Dime as malicious as Artest? No. But that doesn’t mean his actions couldn’t have prompted a similar explosion.
Having said that, none of this means the fans were necessarily justified in their words. I don’t know what they said to Dime exactly, but it might be beneficial if his reaction sparks a discussion as to how far hecklers should be allowed to go.
When I worked in San Diego, I would see San Diego State fans hold up opposing players’ DUI mug shots and scream extremely personal jeers that didn’t feel appropriate for a college sports event. In fact, part of me is surprised there aren’t more physical reactions from players.
But that doesn’t excuse Dime. You don’t hit fans for heckling. Not under any circumstance.
Some might argue Romar suspending Dime for three games might be punishment enough. After all, that’s what former Oklahoma State star Marcus Smart received when he shoved a fan who allegedly hurled a racial slur his way.
But this isn’t just about Dime. This is about Romar sending a message to his players and telling the nation what his program stands for.
When Smart was suspended, the Cowboys were a top-20 team jockeying for NCAA tournament position. They lost all three games in his absence, which led to a No. 9 seed in the Dance and a first-round exit. Then-Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford knew he was making a sacrifice, but he did it for the sake of principle.
The Huskies, on the other hand, don’t really have anything left to play for this regular season. The only meaningful games that remain for them are in the Pac-12 tournament, which if miraculously won, would send the Huskies to the NCAA tourney.
So if Romar wants to express this kind of behavior is truly unacceptable, he would sit his premier shot blocker in Las Vegas. I know it sounds rough for everyone in a Huskies uniform — but you can’t overemphasize the significance of hitting a fan.
I also can’t overemphasize how highly respected Malik Dime is. Since the incident, he has been nothing but contrite — shaking hands with the students after the game Thursday, and expressing what seemed to be sincere remorse in a statement Friday.
“I made a very poor decision, and did not represent my team, my University and my family the way I want to,” Dime said. “I am glad I had the chance to apologize in person to the students involved in the altercation, and I am prepared to accept the full consequences of my actions.”
Those consequences might be painful, but Malik should still be a celebrated Husky after he graduates. He just made a mistake.
You know that expression “happens to the best of us?” Dime might be the chief example.