Dumm Thoughts: Prank gives UI a bad name

UI senior Roche (right)/AP Photo-Ed Andrieski

"Dumm Thoughts" columnist Sean Dumm has a bone to pick with University of Iowa senior John William Roche, who faces federal charges for making a drunken, threatening phone call to Kobe Bryant's accuser.

Like many of you, I'm insanely proud of my alma mater, the University of Iowa.

I often boast of the literary and scientific accomplishments of many of the University's finest products. I often tell the story of when I was a freshman taking modern astronomy and professor James Van Allen referred to the discovery of "my belts of radioactivity, which make space travel possible." It was then that I realized why I was sitting in Van Allen Hall. Wherever you walk around the campus, you will find a monument to the character and achievement of the University of Iowa.

As proud as I am of those individuals who have made Iowa a better place, I am upset by those students who represent this fine institution in a negative light to the national media. For example, a few years ago former student Ellen Cho appeared on the popular MTV reality show "Road Rules" and was portrayed as a whiny, nosy, superficial and vacuous, all while proudly sporting her Iowa sweatshirt. I don't know Ms. Cho, or how accurately she was portrayed, but for all of her antics, I wished she was not an Iowa student.

But this pales in comparison to the shame I feel as I write to you today about the recent alleged criminal acts of a current student.

John William Roche has been charged with threatening Kobe Bryant's accuser. You know, the sexual assault case involving the NBA superstar that you might have read, seen or heard something about recently in the news. Anyway, according to wire reports, Roche, 22, is a self-acclaimed "sports fanatic" who reasoned that his drunkedness from a day at a golf tournament was the cause for the profanity-laced threat he left on the woman's answering machine on July 27. Roche appeared in court in Denver yesterday and pleaded innocent to the charges.

If convicted, Roche faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for his little prank phone call.

No doubt you read this Web site because you're a big sports fan. And if you're like me, you just can't get enough of the NBA paternity cases, Rick Neuheisel recruiting violations, Mike Tyson sideshows, and Anna Kournikova sightings. But like a train wreck or other some mass casualty accident, nothing draws a bigger crowd than a good old-fashion arrest or scandal. That's why the nation has become fixated on the aftermath of the murder of former Baylor University student-athlete Patrick Dennehy and trying to figure out what level of hell former coach Dave Bliss is going to roast in for all eternity. Likewise, the press -- and presumably the general public -- can't get enough information regarding the sexual assault rape charges that Bryant faces in Eagle County, Colo.

With respect to the Bryant case, a kind of media over-exposure that makes the O.J. trial look like a well guarded secret has left this country saturated with every detail. Since the conclusion of the O.J trials, the Internet has made it possible for wannabe reporters without any journalistic integrity to report on whatever matters they wish without regard for truth or veracity. As a result, when classless, ratings-hungry radio talk show host Tom Leykis publicly revealed the name of Mr. Bryant's accuser, it was only a matter of minutes before any of us could go to our computer and look at her high school yearbook photos, vote on her "hotness" at AmIHot.com, or more directly, obtain her address and phone number and have 100 sausage pizzas delivered to her home.

I guess it was inevitable that at some point this information on Bryant's accuser would find its way to some drunk moron who would take matters too far. Apparently that moron resides in Iowa City.

This was not the type of phone call where Roche offered support for the alleged victim's courage. According to the federal indictment, Roche allegedly offered to sodomize the victim with a coat hanger and repeatedly stated that he would kill her. And because Roche didn't take the time to travel to the state of Colorado before making the call, he now faces even stricter punishment under federal laws dealing with communicating his threats across state lines.

The grand irony in all of this is that Roche may end up serving more jail time than Kobe Bryant. Sometimes words do speak louder than actions.

Roche's longtime friend and recent media tattler, Elliot Schwind, 22, informed reporters at The Daily Iowan that "We [Roche and Schwind] had been drinking since tee-off at 11 a.m., so we were all pretty drunk at night when he called. I know he absolutely didn't remember making this call the next day."

Regardless of his guilt or innocence in this matter, it is clear that Roche needs help. In Johnson County, Iowa, alone, Roche has three public-intoxication charges and one charge of possession of alcohol under the legal age. While we've all had our drunken college moments, it appears that a pattern of detrimental conduct existed prior to the most famous prank call in our nation's recent history.

The drunken ramblings allegedly uttered by Roche are now splashed across every major media publication from USA Today to the New York Times and were featured on all major television networks. In almost every instance, the report contained one of two phrases: "University of Iowa student John Roche" or "John Roche of Iowa City, Iowa." Both of these phrases open the door for the nation to comment in a negative light about Iowans -- or even worse, University of Iowa students.

Perhaps some of you heard the extended swipes that nationally syndicated radio host Jim Rome has taken at the University of Iowa. It is unquestionable that Rome has a major grudge against Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa athletic department, but such an incident opened the floodgates for yet another fresh attack.

When a student acts out in a fashion that draws negative attention to the university, it reflects poorly on all of us. People who have never been to Iowa City would not know that Iowa City is actually an extremely educated and enlightened city. Very few of its citizens would tolerate threatening phone calls to the accuser in a sexual assault case. With the publication of the news reports about Roche's arrest, the "East Coast mentality" that commonly portrays Iowans as being uncivilized good ol' boys is perpetuated.

Thanks in part to Roche, the next time we return to the Orange Bowl, we will again have to explain why our tractors are not double-parked outside our hotels.

Sean Dumm writes satirical and other commentaries for HTO -- most of which were intended in jest. Some of it is even supposed to be funny. All of it is designed to make you think a little bit. Sean is a graduate of the University of Iowa and currently resides in Kansas City.

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