Last fall, during a game at Autzen Stadium, I witnessed a moment I am most embarrassed about; the booing of a college player. Has there ever been a more maligned player in Oregon history than Alejandro Maldonado?
Criticism of players is fair game in my opinion; it is what we do. But as George Wrightster told me last week, it’s okay to criticize the performance but not to insult the person or his family. Booing a college player, to me, extends beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior.
While there is scholarship money provided and I will be the first to say the money is close to sufficient compensation for their work – I think that the scholarship should reflect true cost of attendance – these are still not professional athletes.
The common theme is that “he (Maldonado) cost us (Oregon) two shots at the National Title in a row.”
First, no he didn’t. Sorry to say, but anyone who thinks that Oregon was going to get a rematch with LSU in 2011 is drinking a really spiked kool-aid. It would not have mattered had the Ducks beaten USC in 2011, the perceived manner of their defeat to LSU, combined with Alabama’s positive perception would have kept Oregon out of the title game, regardless. Stop using the green goggles; it just wasn’t happening.
As for 2012, why don’t people blame Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (who dropped a sure fire pick six); or De’Anthony Thomas (whose missed block stopped a would-be touchdown)? Either play would have changed the outcome of the game.
We could also blame Chip Kelly, whose refusal to try anything new resulted in repeating the same situation, hoping for a different result. As is oft repeated, that is the definition of insanity.
The difference from a fan perspective is that each of those other players has dozens of opportunities, so one mistake seems less important. A kicker, meanwhile, is in for so very few plays that any mistake is magnified.
I get that.
It’s just too bad that Oregon fans feel the need to belittle someone who committed to playing football as a student-athlete and simply came up short in a couple of magnified instances. I think many fans forget just what it takes to be an elite athlete. I don’t. I played at a small college and worked my backside off after college to become a world-class power lifter.
The next season, Mark Helfrich ended what is perhaps the most over-scrutinized two plays in college football since the words “wide right” were etched into the psyche of Florida State fans.
With the promotion of Matt Wogan, Maldonado’s placekicking career was virtually over, barring injury.
I want to thank Maldonado for his efforts and perseverance. It takes a strength most of the boo-birds cannot muster, to keep coming back from failure and continuing to make an effort. It takes the kind of strength few know and to do so without fear. It takes the kind of strength the boo-birds do not possess, to become a scholarship athlete in the Pac-12 Conference. Maldonado had much more strength than any of those boo-birds.
A counterpoint can certainly be made that the ever increasing cost of attending a football game gives fans the right to boo a player, coach, referee or anyone else they choose. Even in college. There is some merit to that thought from the intuitive concept. Sometimes, though, intuition is wrong.
Having the right to do something, however, does not mean that it is an action we should undertake. Fortunately, the one thing I can take is that which the great Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: ”If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”
Take solace, though, as there is some relief for those of us who were disgusted by the actions of the few. After all, the best way for someone to show their ignorance is to allow them to speak – or, in this case, boo. We saw your ignorance. So did the whole world.
Nonetheless, for those of you who booed him – well, just be glad I wasn’t sitting next to you.
Top Photo by Scott Reed