Athletes arrested after downtown fracas

Five Missouri Southern football players were arrested last weekend in connection with an incident outside a bar in downtown Joplin.

On Tuesday, Head Football Coach Bart Tatum responded with immediate investigatory suspensions.

“I’m very saddened by any negative publicity the alleged behavior of five or so of our MSSU football players have caused this institution,” Tatum said during a press conference. “I do not have all the details from Saturday night, but I’m not waiting for more details to take action.”

Those arrested and suspended are Charles Johnson, a redshirt freshman defensive back; Corderial Collier, a junior defensive back; Justin Cowper, a junior defensive back and Elreo Smith, a junior running back. The Joplin Globe reported that Abdul Dione, a junior offensive lineman, was also suspended. He was not listed in initial arrest reports.

Cowper and Collier are each listed as first-string players on defense, and Dione is listed as a first-string guard. Johnson is listed as a second-string player, and Smith was not listed on a depth-chart.

Tatum said the players would not be allowed contact with the program, including meetings and workouts, but would be allowed to attend academic study sessions and meetings with coaches. Final decisions, he said, could include reinstatement, removal from the team or game suspensions.

“I want to point out that the legal system does not have to run its course for us to make final decisions on any disciplinary action that we take,” Tatum said.

According to reports in The Joplin Globe, around 100 people were involved in the fracas outside Club 502, and the incident was described as a “near riot.” Joplin Police Department officers, Sheriff’s Department officers and members of the Joplin Fire Department responded. At least nine people were arrested.

Tatum said he first heard of the incident from players, and added that the majority of football players are “model citizens.”

“I’ll be very clear, some of these five guys, or six, whatever it ends up being, have been model student athletes for us,” he said. “For them it was an isolated problem. The extent of the problem I do not know right now but I am researching it.”

Tatum said he visited with the Joplin Police Department on Tuesday, and planned another meeting with police on Wednesday.  He also said a final decision on any possible disciplinary action would come “as soon as possible.”

“We want to make our decisions and move forward,” Tatum said. “We’ve got a very cohesive football team right now and so we want to make these decisions, decide what the punishment’s going to be, if punishment is indeed necessary, and make it swift and decisive and get on with our business.

“Our guys are working extremely hard,” he added.