The Florida Gators softball program was in the national spotlight again Monday night.  However, this time it was for the wrong reasons.  The headlines across multiple sites told a story–an exaggerated, ugly and false tale.

PER ESPN: Tim Walton of Florida Gators and Haley Fagan of Auburn Tigers get into postgame tussle.
PER CBS NEWS: Auburn softball player, Florida coach clash after game.
PER NY DAILY NEWS: Florida softball coach, Auburn player shove each other after game.
PER LA TIMES: Auburn softball player goes after Florida coach following shove in handshake line.

It would be a BIG deal if these headlines were true.  However, despite indisputable evidence (there is video of the entire incident), Florida’s head coach Tim Walton was made out to be a horrible, woman-beating brute.  Commentary read as if he spent his entire career at Florida beating up on females, including players and even his own wife.

One problem was that, initially, the only view anyone had seen, showed the incident from an angle which appeared to show Walton hitting Fagan in the face.  There was no video played to show what happened leading up to the incident.

I debated whether I should even write a story about this because it happened AFTER the game, and ended rather quickly.  Why did it end so fast?  Because Walton was smart enough to remove himself from the situation.

In softball, the head coach is typically on the field for quite a while after the game, talking to the players and media.  This time however, Walton, was quick to leave the scene<–a true sign of maturity.  What was Haley Fagan doing while Walton was leaving?  She was being restrained by her teammates as she appeared ready to confront Florida players, who were obviously unhappy about what had just occurred.

I was watching the late edition of SportsCenter, as I do most nights, and sure enough, towards the end of the broadcast, the unfortunate incident was mentioned.  SportsCenter showed a longer clip than had been shown previously on the internet or on twitter.  In SportsCenter’s clip, Fagan was clearly displayed going through the handshake line, high-fiving other members of the Florida team, until she got to Coach Walton.  Walton is seen looking straight ahead, and seemed not to notice that Fagan had put her hand down.  Walton’s hand then makes the usual gesture toward a high five, which accidentally lands softly on Fagan’s shoulder, all due to her unsportsmanlike behavior.  Anyone with half a brain who saw this clip should come away knowing the Florida skipper had no intention of hitting Fagan.

Florida and the Fagan family have a history.  In 2012, just before the Gators faced FGCU in the opening game of the NCAA Regionals, Haley Fagan’s older sisters, Kasey and Sami, and one other teamate, were dismissed from the team.  There remains a lot of uncertainty about what actually occurred, since nobody “in the know,” ever spoke to the specific reasons for their dismissal, but both sisters would transfer to other college programs.

I stayed awake late last night, knowing that because this incident had reached SportsCenter, (as softball is rarely featured), it would be a national storyline.  I continued updating twitter, searching Tim Walton’s name, and the results were disturbing.

Some people questioned Walton’s morals as it pertains to “beating” women.  Some Florida fans were even asked how they could support someone who would hit a woman over a sporting event.
Another Twitter comment suggested it was no coincidence that Walton hit a girl whose family has ties to his program.
While I agree it’s no coincidence that Haley Fagan was involved, as she instigated the whole thing, I ponder what the outcome would have been if she had behaved with class and dignity and kept her hand up, as is part of the tradition….

Tim Walton has been nothing less than a connsumate professional since coming to Florida, and the Gators are fortunate to have him as their coach.  Walton’s players are often spotted around Gainesville participating in  charity events, and he clearly possesses the morals necessary to lead today’s youth.
If you need just one example that personifies the character of Tim Walton, maybe it should be the fact that Kasey and Sami Fagan were dismissed BEFORE the NCAA Tournament began.  It was an incredible display of integrity to see a coach dismiss three of his top players at such a crucial time. (Sami led the 2012 Gators with a .371 average. The third dismissed player, Cheyenne Coyle, hit 10 home runs and had 34 RBIs. Kasey was also a regular contributor, having started 50 games.)

This man, Tim Walton, who was/is willing to accept the consequences of standing up for his values, is a man who should be revered.  He was willing to change the culture of the clubhouse, to his own detriment, and suffer an embarrassing defeat to defend what he believed was right. (Florida WAS embarrassed in the 2012 Regionals.)

Tim Walton showed us, by example, how one can do the “right” thing and still come out on top in the end, when we were rewarded with Florida’s first NCAA Championship just two years later.

On Tuesday, Walton once again took the high road when he apologized for the attention this “fake” story took away from the series between two of the country’s top programs.  Maybe when Haley grows up, she’ll look back on this incident with regret and realize she was responsible for stealing her own team’s win…..

Coach Walton, no apologies are needed. Actually, the entire Gator Nation should applaud you.

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