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Schwartz: Cordell Pemsl’s Story Familiar to Us All

February 13, 2020

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

This is not an indictment of Cordell Pemsl, the Iowa men’s basketball player arrested Monday for driving with a suspended license.

Yet it needs to be asked: What is it about our nature – ALL of our natures, not Pemsl’s or any other single person – that causes us to make impulsive decisions that go against our best interests? It’s something we’ve seen happen year after year in the Iowa athletic program, in our circles of family and friends, and in our own lives.

To review: Pemsl missed nearly all of last season because of injury. When he finally got the all clear to return for the 2019-20 season, he responded by working hard and re-integrating with his teammates. Then in September he got an OWI, faced punishment that included a suspension – after working so hard to get back on the court – and Monday drove without a license, got arrested, and is now suspended again.

Why would someone put so much time into returning only to make choices that negate all that effort? Why risk everything?

I don’t know. I also have no idea why I set high professional goals for myself but impede that achievement by screwing around, maybe falling down a YouTube rabbit hole, then emerging from that rabbit hole full of anger toward myself for wasting so much time. Do I, or do I not, want to achieve my professional goals?

Why did Tiger Woods profess his love for family then rip his apart through infidelity? Why have some Iowa athletes jeopardized their scholarships by treating freshman year like a party instead of taking care of their grades? Why would some athletes, who rely on the maintenance of their bodies to succeed, not show up for rehab, train as hard as they can, or give into vices despite all of the resources at their disposal? It’s like buying a Rolls-Royce but not changing the oil.

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The obvious answer, even though the question is still worth asking, is that the answers vary. It can be said that we are all our own worst enemies. Some of us are plagued by never having been forced to deal with consequences. Or by addiction. Or childhood demons. Or immaturity. Or mental-health issues. Or we weren’t taught the value of hard work. Or we got a raw deal and grew up around bad people. Or we’ve had bad luck. Or or or or or or or. It goes on and on.

The point is, everyone’s different. We’ve all got … whatever … to deal with, and it’s easy to look at Pemsl’s decision making Monday and think, “What a dumbass.” What takes real strength, courage, and insight is the willingness to look within ourselves to reflect on our own bad decisions. My personal list is so long it would make Santa Claus blush.

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That doesn’t excuse bad behavior of any sort. Bad decisions come with consequences, and those consequences often run proportionate to the degree of the bad decision. Murder equals a life sentence or the death penalty. Not being careful with homework equals a C instead of an A.

Perspective does, however, lead to empathy, which should be bottomless but feels in short supply these days. And yes, we all judge. It’s human nature, but how nice would it be if understanding came before the judgment? (No, I’m not recommending compassion for perpetrators of violent crimes.)

Pemsl won’t play tonight against Indiana, another game missed because of shortsighted decision-making. Another game missed in a season that was supposed to be a celebration of his return from injury.

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It’s not a shame, but it’s a bummer. More than anything, it’s relatable.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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