Another week of college football behind us, and more of the unbeaten have fallen. New titans emerge as we dispose of last week’s heroes, wringing out Wildcat and Tiger hopes like rags soaked in day old dishwater. How does it feel, Arizona and Auburn? Yesterday’s news doesn’t generate clicks or the mighty consumer’s eyeballs, so be gone with you until the unexpected media-generated “upset” in a few weeks. Oh my, how college football fans love their sizzle and hype like children watching cartoons and tween dramas. Episodes of new TV hits “Dak The Explorer” and “That’s So Jameis” coming soon to a four letter network near you.
We haven’t learned anything from the drought of character permeating sports. If ESPN and Fox Sports ratings are any indication, we as a sports society care more about the win loss records of our favorite teams than the developing men behind the masks and the families they represent. We enable criminals and abusers who succeed on the field, while maligning those who don’t live up to unfair expectations of perfection. Further, win loss records tell nothing of the struggle teams endure from individual injury, academic challenges, and family circumstances that prevent a team from elusive perfection.
I met Hroniss Grasu’s mother at the will call window before the game in Pasadena. As we exchanged brief pleasantries about the team and the Rose Bowl environment, I noticed that she picked up 30 tickets for her contingent alone. Walking past the Mariota family outside the stadium gates, I recognized the faithful support of a family traveling up and down the west coast to support their son.
Later, as I observed portions of the game from the field, over all the noise of 80,000 fans, I heard the screaming voices of Royce Freeman’s family. They delighted in the true freshman’s southern California homecoming, the swelling pride in their voices certainly turning some staunch Bruin supporters onto the Rolls Royce bandwagon.
As a participant and coach of athletics at the high school level, I propose that players simply see season records very differently than fans. For instance, if you’ve been a Duck fan for the past five years, then most of the players you root for have been playing football for twice as long as you’ve been cheering. They have endured losses at every level of football, yet they continue on their paths to college educations and contributing to a team they identify as their new family. As is true in business, most of these players recognize the valuable character forged in defeat and failure.
For most of these young men, their experience at Oregon represents a maiden voyage away from home and their local sports celebrity status. Most are unfairly pressured into believing that if they do not eventually play on Sundays, their football goals have been unattained. But much like you and me, personal growth, health, and community are far more important to these players than we credit them for. They experience successful college campaigns because they contribute to a cause greater than the individual, regardless of team record, and hopefully become the men their families, coaches, and truest fans continue to cheer for them to be. Molding successful sons, husbands, and employees is the truest win for any coach. If only Coke or FedEx could find a way to profit from better people on the field than a better product for the fans to annually consume.
Top Photo by David Pyles