Football is a beautiful game, complex in nature and thrilling to watch. It is also an ugly game, one that pulls at every emotion while brutally wreaking havoc on the body physically and mentally. For the participants, they work year round for that opportunity to perform; for the fans we anxiously anticipate all year those few days when we can cheer on the young men who have decided to represent our chosen school.
There is so much passion for the game of college football, for the players and coaches and fans involved. While most have good intentions keeping it in mind as a game, this passion can blind some to reality and bring out the ugly side of people. The upcoming matchup between LSU and Oregon has already brought out some of the worst in fans, and with two weeks to go until game time I anticipate the fervor to grow even stronger.
A series of incidents in the offseason have fallen under intense public scrutiny, leading to the suspension of multiple Oregon players and potentially the suspension of several LSU players for the game following a recent bar brawl, though the incident is still being investigated. I personally was appalled to hear some Oregon fans actually reveling in the potential suspension of key LSU players following this incident, acting as if it was good news, just as I would be equally enraged to hear LSU fans celebrating the suspension of Oregon athletes.
Oh how quickly we forget what it was like when we were 18. Watching football it is easy to neglect that inside the uniforms are real people, what with their massive pads and futuristic uniforms making them appear to be more like video game action heroes. But beneath the Nike swooshes and state of the art safety gear is a living breathing human being, a kid of 18-22 years old. While college football now rakes in money like a professional sport, we forget too easily that it is a game being played by kids, not professionals (yet). Some may reach that elusive dream of playing professionally, but college football is amateur, a game played by young men to represent their respective schools, not for a paycheck.
Collegiate athletes go through the exact same experiences everyone else does when going to college. For many it is their first time away from home, the first time on their own. They have to learn how to take care of themselves, how to cook for themselves, how to live alone, how to overcome homesickness, how to balance a budget, manage time, establish relationships, excel in academics, and find where everything is located on campus. College is an enthralling time, and a scary time. Some will handle it better than others.
College athletes will go through the same experiences any other college student endures, make the same mistakes and learn the same life lessons. However in today’s 24/7 media age, unlike every other student, for student-athletes their tiniest mistakes get scrutinized, many get judged and labeled by people who have never met them in person, don’t know their personality, don’t know their background; but can easily list their 40 time and what star rating they had coming out of high school.
LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson finds himself under investigation for a recent bar brawl in Baton Rouge, LA that leaves his eligibility for the Oregon game in question.
I ask that people breathe, relax, and simply think before speaking. College football is a great game, and there is nothing like gamedays in the fall at your team’s home stadium surrounded by fans all eager to see what will transpire out on the turf. But remember that these are kids, young men still figuring out life. They are coached and trained to be astounding athletes on the field, but off the field they are prone to make the exact same life mistakes that everyone else does. Life is a trial-and-error experience, and nobody goes through it without being in some form of trouble or having a lapse in proper judgment. We would like to think that these great and powerful athletes are as strong mentally as they are physically, but in some cases that is simply not true.
In recent months Oregon’s high-profile cornerback Cliff Harris was cited for driving 118mph on the freeway. Video footage from the police cruiser recently released showed that quarterback Darron Thomas was also in the car, and there was suspicion of drug use. In recent days, a large brawl took place at a bar in Baton Rouge that reportedly involved multiple LSU players. One of the key athletes on LSU’s team, Russell Shepard, has also been in limbo recently regarding his eligibility for the Oregon game.
LSU’s Russell Shepard is one of the best athletes on the team and a potential game-changer, but his eligibility for the Oregon game is in doubt.
During these long offseason months, LSU has also self-reported multiple NCAA rules violations, and Oregon has been under scrutiny of possible violations as well.
Young men in college making errors in judgment has been going on for as long as colleges have existed, yet for a select few every transgression gets analyzed in detail in the media and by the fans of the sport. I ask that people stop and think and try to relate before automatically branding a young man for life based on their lowest moments. Student-athletes are more than just their stats and 40-time or a number on their back, they are individuals with their own stories and life experiences. For some it won’t be until years after their days in college when they fully grasp the life lessons that will be learned at their institutions.
For the last two years I have become quite angry when opposing fans have rubbed in my face a particular incident caught on television from 2009 involving Oregon RB LeGarrette Blount after a loss to Boise State. This has been replayed time and again and continues to follow Blount in his professional career as every time his name is mentioned the word ‘punch’ almost immediately follows.
Now stop and think about your most embarrassing moment in life, and what it would feel like to have that moment replayed over and over nationwide to millions and forever be associated with that instance of weakness, to have your worst moment as a person forever define you. I don’t care that Mr. Blount’s momentary loss of composure embarrassed a school I choose to cheer for, but what bothers me immensely is seeing others who have never met LeGarrette and know nothing of him beyond that moment completely judge him solely by it and use it as a means to attack others…it is people celebrating another’s downfall, and to me schadenfreude has no place in amateur sports.
For all the great things LeGarrette Blount did at Oregon and now in the NFL for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for many this lone lapse in judgment is how they choose to unfortunately forever define him as a person.
I find this sort of behavior abhorrent. When a game takes place I want to see one team’s best effort vs. the other team’s best effort, and to the victor go the spoils. Any animosity from the game is left on the field by players and fans, in the end hands can be shaken and congratulations given to the winning team with things being left at that.
But when I hear fans celebrating that one team might not be at full strength because of an off-field incident I find it disgusting and insulting. It is classless, embarrassing behavior, and as an Oregon fan first and foremost I will openly berate any fellow Oregon fan I see/hear being joyous over not having to play a team at full strength because of injury or off-field incident. It is a contradiction of everything that makes college football special, and I will not tolerate it. There is no “good news” over a student-athlete finding themselves in trouble, I feel sorry for the young men not being able to display proper judgment but I will never celebrate in the fact that their error results in their team possibly being easier to defeat because of their absence.
In recent days since the LSU bar incident I have received multiple messages from Duck fans conveying that exact sentiment, calling it “good news” that might lead to an easier victory for Oregon if Jordan Jefferson and other LSU players are suspended. This same thought has no doubt come from some LSU fans in recent months with the suspensions of Cliff Harris and Kiko Alonso. Regardless of which side you choose to stand, it is shameful to hear this talk and those who utter such thoughts should be reprimanded by fellow fans. I have no problem with people being passionate about sports, but passion is no excuse for willingly blinding yourself to compassion and understanding for fellow human beings.
Oregon superstar cornerback Cliff Harris has been suspended for the LSU-Oregon game September 3rd because of an off-field incident.
If an error is made by a student-athlete, I do believe that proper punishment should be administered, consequences of actions need to be learned. Yes, I do feel a sense of injustice when some knowingly break the rules and are allowed to still play, such as last season when Cam Newton was permitted to continue playing for Auburn, and multiple Ohio State players were allowed to participate in the Sugar Bowl after all had clearly violated NCAA rules.
But if a player is suspended or not, I do not understand the cause to want to celebrate their misfortune. For those that immediately think it makes a possible victory easier, I counter that it also belittles the victory that may come. The media will of course use the obvious slant of adding an asterisk next to the record books because of the suspended players not participating, thereby reducing the value of whatever earned victory may occur.
Yes, I want Oregon to defeat LSU. I want that victory to come on the field, not because of a bar brawl away from the gridiron. I would hope that if LSU comes out the victor on September 3rd that LSU fans celebrate their on-field triumph, not the fact that some of Oregon’s players were absent. I also hope that whichever fan base witnesses their school lose on Saturday don’t use this same logic as an excuse to dismiss the victory that will be so hard-fought for one team.
Whoever wins September 3rd, it will be won on the field by two teams giving their best efforts with the student-athletes they have available to play. Let’s keep a little perspective, never celebrate in other’s misfortune but appreciate the efforts given on the gridiron. I don’t boo opponents, I don’t leave games early, and I don’t start fights with opposing fans. I love college football, as a game, and it should be celebrated and appreciated by all as a game; with class, dignity, and respect for those that battle for our entertainment.
To any LSU fans that want to talk trash about players being suspended or Oregon fans that want to celebrate so-called “good news” about an LSU player’s transgressions, just save it and think a moment before speaking. I don’t want to hear it, and you are only embarrassing yourselves, and tarnishing the hard-earned respect others have for our two premier programs.
Let the best team win, ON the field. September 3rd can’t get here soon enough.