Zedric Joseph got little attention as a running back on the University of Maine football team for the past two seasons. That changed quickly this week when police in Florida got warrants for his arrest on one court of murder and two for aggravated assault.
Joseph is accused of stabbing a man and woman in West Palm Beach while he was home on a two-week school break that ends this weekend. Questions of why and how haven’t been answered because there are still too few details.
You turn to the coaching staff that recruited Joseph to play at Maine and the teammates who shared their locker room and their lives with him. You want fast answers for the hyperspeed social media world we all live in.
You want explanations and seem surprised when at first there aren’t any. Guess what: The men who picked Joseph up after he was knocked down and brought him into their football family don’t always have answers. They have to reconcile the man they lived with and the man police say did a murderous thing.
That many of Maine’s football players are reliving the same ordeal 15 months ago when Jovan Belcher killed the mother of his child doesn’t make it easier. Belcher was a star linebacker at Maine who earned an NFL career with the Kansas City Chiefs. He did evil, understood it and took his life. His suicide doesn’t absolve what he did. For those who want to see remorse, his last act was it.
That day I spoke with several of Belcher’s former teammates. They couldn’t understand why he killed but they weren’t in denial. They didn’t cling to the good teammate they knew. They did mourn the murdered woman and the young child who lost both parents in one terrible day.
That they grieved for the lost soul that was Belcher is understandable. They couldn’t explain his act and he was their brother.
I had talked with Belcher a few times when he played at Maine. I hadn’t met Joseph, 23. He was a transfer student from a junior college in New York. His turn to contribute was supposed to happen this past season. He broke his leg in the third game. He had no more NCAA eligibility.
Police believe a man died at the end of Joseph’s knife. The ignorant among us will see that Joseph is black and from elsewhere and need to hear nothing more. They may use Joseph and Belcher as reasons to downsize Maine football and strip away the scholarships that bring diversity to a state that needs to experience more.
Jack Cosgrove’s football program has opened many more doors for the men who were brought to Orono than those doors closed by two senseless murders.
It’s been a tragic week for Maine football. Dominic Cusano, a former defensive back from Wallingford, Conn., died Sunday. He was 26 and a track coach at a Connecticut high school. Men who played with Joseph this fall also played with Cusano. Dom’s older brother, David Cusano Jr., was a star defensive back at Maine and now the head track coach at Wheaton College in Massachusetts.
Cosgrove has spent more than 20 years creating a sense of accountability and support to each other. It’s what gets people through storms on and off the field. It’s the goal of most coaches.
There was pain in the Maine locker room when Belcher killed. There was pain when Cusano’s death became known. There was probably more pain when Joseph was accused of murder.
Does that make the teammates and staff victims? Not in the classic sense.
To many Maine fans, the university’s football players are just that: Over-muscled athletes in a helmet and pads playing a game that can be violent. You don’t pay attention when they graduate and get jobs and that’s understandable. They’re not making news, they’re leading lives.
It’s the taking of lives that gets attention, of course. Just know that Cosgrove and Joseph’s teammates are looking for the same answers.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: