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There are numerous dates on which I could write this piece.
I could have written it on June 15th, the five year anniversary of Patrick Dennehy's disappearance. Or on the 25th, when his Chevy Tahoe was found abandoned in Virginia Beach, Va, stripped of all its license plates. If I wanted to, and trust me when I say I never wanted to write this article, I could have waited until July 23 when Carlton Dotson was charged with murdering Dennehy, or July 25, when the mutilated and decomposed body of a young college student was discovered right outside of Waco, Texas, where both had gone to school. Finally, I could have waited until July 30, August 8, or August 16, all dates referring to Baylor men's head basketball coach Dave Bliss.
But instead, I chose July 10.
Nothing extraordinary happened in the story July 10, 2003, and that is exactly why it is the best day to remember it: to pick any of the other days would be to single out one event as the central point of what became the worst scandal in American collegiate athletics history.
If you have chosen to forget it, and trust me again when I say that is the only way to forget it, Patrick Dennehy was a rising junior on the Baylor men's basketball team; Carlton Dotson a rising senior, although he had lost his scholarship. Dave Bliss was the head coach
Sometime on either June 14 or June 15, Dotson murdered Dennehy with a bullet to the head outside of Waco. He then drove Dennehy's car up to Virginia, abandoned it, and returned home to Hurlock, Md.
Somehow, that was not the cruelest part of the story.
Dennehy's step-father noticed something was not right when his son did not contact him on Father's Day. The fact that he could not get through to his son or to anyone who knew where his son was troubled him further.
On June 19, a report was filed with the Waco police that Dennehy was missing. Four days later, an affidavit was filed for a search warrant for Dennehy's computer. A further two days was all that was needed to find his car. Somewhere during this time, Dotson told his cousin that he had murdered Dennehy.
The body was found decomposing outside of Waco on July 25, two days after Dotson was charged with the murder. On July 30, an autopsy confirmed that it was likely a homicide.
Nearly two years after the murder, on June 5, 2005, Carlton Dotson pleaded guilty to charges of murdering Patrick Dennehy and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Nearly five years after the murder, the other criminal walks free.
To this day, Dave Bliss remains a free man, at least in terms of the law. Sure, he cannot coach again in collegiate athletics until 2013, and I would be almost as shocked as I would be horrified if any institution that claims to provide higher learning would bring him in as a basketball coach.
Bliss was the man who on July 30 ordered his players and an assistant coach to lie to the media and say that Dennehy paid for his education through dealing drugs. The truth? Dennehy paid for his education through a scholarship provided by Dave Bliss that was in excess to the twelve that the school was allowed to give for men's basketball. He provided money to Dennehy and Corey Herring to cover costs not paid for by financial aid.
Rumors started flying that these players had received money, but Bliss denied it. Finally, on August 8, 2003, one day after Dennehy was buried, Bliss admitted to giving Dennehy money and resigned.
It wasn't until after his resignation, on August 16, that it was made public just what he asked his players and an assistant coach to do.
Dave Bliss ordered, not told or suggested like many media outlets have translated the story to convey, but ordered his players and an assistant coach to say that Dennehy had paid for his education through dealing drugs if approached by the media.
Dave Bliss ordered his students to lie about their ex-teammate, in the middle of all their grief, because he was concerned about his own ass.
As a role model, Dave Bliss makes post-Clemson Woody Hayes look saintly.
For the last five years, I have tried to fathom what Bliss did; I really have. The closest I could come to was accepting what he did as fact. But I still couldn't fathom it.
How could a man who has made a career out of mentoring young men, who has made a career out of growing and maturing young men into real life, who has made a career out of teaching young men lack any ounce of common sense or decency? I still cannot fathom it today.
It is one thing if he panicked right after Dennehy was missing and he himself said that he thinks Dennehy paid for his education through dealing drugs. That is just reprehensible. But what he did was one month after it became apparent that Dennehy was murdered, right after his decomposing body was found with a bullet wound in his head, Bliss ordered the same out of his players.
That truly is unfathomable.
Somehow, Bliss was not arrested for obstruction of justice. If I were in charge, I would have made sure he was. No punishment would suffice for what Dave Bliss did.
"I keep going back to him shaking my hand and me thanking him for coming," Dennehy's stepfather, Brian Brabazon told the USA Today when the revelations came out. "Had I had even an inkling of this, I would have grabbed his hand and his throat and thrown him against the wall and beat him."
I cannot see how Brabazon could have been arrested if he did any of that. What police officer in good conscience could protect the law if he didn't allow Brabazon to beat up Bliss?
Ray Ratto put it well in a special to ESPN.com when he wrote “Then came Dave Bliss, and suddenly the definition of what is too far was radically altered.” But that is just a tad too sugar-coated.
Dave Bliss went above and beyond what is too far. Murder is too far, but rubbing it in is worse. Bliss stepped in Patrick Dennehy's face, in Brian Brabazon's face, in the faces of everyone at Baylor and didn't feel a thing. That is ten times worse than what Carlton Dotson did.
Dotson made a mistake, a fatal mistake, but he is paying for it. Bliss barely is.
Over the past five years, Bliss has been entrusted to coach a minor league basketball team, the Dakota Wizards of the CBA. He has also coached high school basketball as a volunteer, something that needs a second to seep in, and most recently, has been a coach for Athletes in Action.
In case you don't know, Athletes in Action is a Christian sports group that claims to have the mission “building spiritual movements everywhere through the platform of sport." If you don't believe me, go to its website, aia.com/about/mission.aspx. It's right there in plain English.
Somehow, Athletes in Action believes that Dave Bliss deserves the opportunity to do that. If anything, he should be a player on that team, learning about what is spiritually right himself.
He never apologized, at least publicly. He did say that he was sorry that he "made a selfish decision to give those players scholarships," which makes sense when you consider how self-centered and self-absorbed Bliss has shown himself to be over the past five years.
Bliss never once cared that Dennehy was murdered. How could he? He had the more pressing concern of what would happen if people found out he paid Dennehy nearly $4000 to attend Baylor. Just the same, he never cared that he ordered his grieving players to lie.
No, Dave Bliss was sorry that he paid Patrick Dennehy, that he helped him play basketball, because Dennehy eventually stabbed him in the back. Had Dennehy not gone out with a friend he trusted, Carlton Dotson, only to get murdered in cold blood, Bliss might still be the head coach at Baylor today. Apparently, what Dennehy did to Bliss is just unspeakable.
I truly believe that the last paragraph is exactly how Dave Bliss views the story.
So I write this article today, not because anything horrific happened on it five years ago, but because nothing horrific happened on it five years ago. Picking one day over the next singles out one act as the true villainy.
The entire two months was villainous, from start to finish, by both Carlton Dotson and Dave Bliss. Both should be in prison right now.
Instead, the man whose actions were probably worse walks free.
Dotson is currently serving a 35-year sentence with a chance for parole in 2021 all because he was misguided and never grew up.
The more we learn about the man he trusted to help him, Dave Bliss, the more we understand just why he never did.