One of the stories that has made headlines this week has been the transfer of Matt Mooney out of Air Force.
Well, the transfer isn’t that big of a deal. It happened earlier this month, and Mooney was a freshman guard that averaged 6.9 points for a team that was irrelevant in the Mountain West race. His move isn’t a big deal to people outside of Air Force, the Mooney family and the handful of mid-major programs that are now re-recruiting him.
What has made headlines, however, was a series of quotes that Mooney gave to the Chicago Tribune in a Q-and-A:
Q: Going to Air Force, I would assume is a much difference college experience than the normal college experience. Is that what you’re seeking, too, at this point — just a normal college experience? I mean, how long do you have to be in the military after graduating? Five years?
A: You’ve got to serve five years in the military. I honestly have no problem with the military, it’s just the Air Force Academy isn’t the same as the military. It’s a much different place. Freshman year here is really rough. It’s meant to be a year to see if you can stick it out and see if you’re ready for the military, but a lot of things go on that people don’t really realize. There’s a lot of bullying and things like that, honestly, because the system is [run] by upperclassmen. And freshmen have no power, whatsoever. It was just a rough year. It was kind of depressing, actually.
It’s just a tough place to be at. … It’s just not really what the military’s like here. Once you get out, it’s different. It’s much more relaxed. But here, it’s very controlled and very strict and disciplined. I went through six weeks of basic training. It was a tough year, to say the least.
Q: You mentioned bullying before. Are there specific examples of things that you had to do where you kind of look back and say, “Why did I have to do this?”
A: Freshmen were not allowed to wear our backpacks. We had to carry our backpacks in our left hand, and we have to run to and from class — to and from everywhere. One day, I was running to mandatory breakfast with my backpack in my left hand. I’m running there, it’s 6:45 in the morning, it’s cold. And one of the upperclassmen says I’m not running fast enough and they just dropped me and made me start doing push-ups. That’s kind of the stuff they can do. There’s a lot of examples, but that’s one of them.
Bullying is a hot-button topic these days — and rightfully so — which is why this story has made the rounds. Putting “so-and-so transferred because of bullying” in a headline is an easy way to garner some clicks, and Mooney learned the hard way that a quote taken the wrong way can make you trend on twitter.
He knows he shouldn’t have used the word ‘bullying’. I know this because he told me as much when I asked him.
But there are a couple of other important things to note here that put what Mooney said in context.
For starters, this is the way things work at many military academies. The first year a student is on campus, he or she is put through intense amounts of physical and mental stress. It’s not hard to find stories about this kind of treatment for freshmen at places like The Citadel or VMI, where freshmen are called “rats.” That’s the culture at a place like Air Force, and what didn’t get picked up as the story went viral was that Mooney said later in the interview, “All of the basketball guys, we all look out for each other. The seniors and stuff. But they’re not always around. I don’t have any of them in my squadron.”
So this wasn’t a decision based on the basketball team pushing him around. Mooney didn’t like the culture at Air Force.
How many freshman would?
More to the point, not everyone is cut out to be a military man.
“He just didn’t see himself as a military person,” Pilipovich said back when Mooney announced his decision to leave the program. “He said, ‘Coach, I love the staff, I love the team, I love our plays, but I’m just not happy every day here and I don’t see myself doing this.’ You’ve got to be happy, and if he’s not happy we wish him well.”
And, here’s the important part, he also didn’t feel like he fit in with the way the basketball team plays. Air Force head coach Dave Pilipovich runs the Princeton Offense, and Mooney told the Tribune, “I didn’t actually really know what it was like until playing in it” and “I didn’t really like playing like that.” Then throw in the fact that he also told the paper that he didn’t like how being at Air Force limited his ability to get home to see his family, and what you have is a kid that’s not happy about the school he decided to play for.
Yes, the bullying that freshmen receive at Air Force played a role in his decision, but if you actually take the time to pay attention to everything that he said, you’d realize that there was a lot more than went into it.
“The article was taken completely out of context,” Mooney said on twitter after some of his quotes started to get picked up. “I am not leaving because of ‘bullying’. USAFA is a great place with lots of great people, too.”
So there it is. The full context of Mooney’s quotes.
Take it how you will.