Take a deep breath. After weeks of arguing, yelling, a convocation in protest, and general rowdiness, we finally know the fate of Urban Meyer, following a thorough investigation into his involvement with the Zach Smith scandal. I’m not going to go over the nitty gritty details of that scandal, because everyone reading this already knows them, and honestly, I really don’t enjoy talking about the nitty gritty details of a deeply damaged relationship and the possible cover-up of domestic abuse.
What I do want to talk about, are the lengths that college football fans at times will go to defend a coach that makes several million dollars a year any time he screws up. It happens every time a major college football coach gets in trouble, whether it be Penn State fans defending Joe Paterno, or Baylor fans and Art Briles, or more recently, Maryland and D.J. Durkin, and obviously, Ohio State and Urban Meyer.
It’s very easy to get caught up in a situation when one’s favorite school, a school that many fans attended and have invested thousands of hours and dollars into, gets into trouble. It’s natural to want to defend an alma mater, or a team that you grew up loving, and more often than not, that also includes defending the coach that runs said program. It’s also not worth doing.
That isn’t to say that Urban Meyer is an irredeemable monster that should be condemned to the depths of hell (to be clear, Joe Paterno is that). Urban Meyer deserved due process, he got it, and the punishment of a three game suspension is probably fair. But that would’ve happened regardless of fan support, or fan rallies, or constant posts about how someone— who may or may not be guilty of enabling a domestic abuser— is absolutely innocent, or absolutely guilty. None of that matters. It may feel good to do, but it doesn’t matter, and it’s not worth the time and energy.
College football coaches, administrators, or anyone else that runs the sport are not worth caring about. Urban Meyer is not Ohio State football. One coach does not make or break a football program, no matter who he is. That’s true at every school in the country. The people that make a program, and the only people worth caring about in this sport, are the players on the field.
College football doesn’t happen without college football players. College football is entirely dependent on the 18 to 22-year-old superheroes that play the game, and without them, there would be no purpose for Urban Meyer, Gene Smith, Michael Drake, or any number of the people profiting off of the people actually playing the sport.
College football players also happen to be the only people in this sport that are generally clear of wrongdoing. They aren’t profiting off of what is essentially free labor (that scholarship really doesn’t matter when you’re spending the majority of your school day with shoulder pads and a helmet on). They’re not continuing to employ coaches accused of pedophilia, or domestic abuse, or any number of awful crimes.
Obviously, not all coaches are bad people. They’re not all guilty of taking advantage of players, or any kind of wrong doing. However, it is certainly a career that attracts a specific kind of person, and a lot of those people are hyper-competitive and willing to do anything that it takes to win; including skirting rules and moral standards to insure victory on the field. That’s the just the way the game works.
Are all players innocent in this? No, of course not. There are going to be bad people in every industry, and college football players are absolutely not without their own issues. However, a vast majority, far more so than in any other demographic in this sport, are legitimately good people, that are legitimately worth caring about and rooting for. People like Robert Landers, who opened up about his struggles with mental health this summer, or Tyquan Lewis, or Joshua Perry, are the ones worth caring about.
Players are significantly more interesting and likable than any of their beneficiaries. They’re the soul of college football, and honestly, just about the only redeemable part of the whole industry. They keep the lights on, while simultaneously being extremely friendly to fans and media, helping out with great causes like this, this, or this. If there’s anything to gleam from the most recent scandal that happened to involve Ohio State this time, this experience should only serve as a further reminder that college football is made important, and worthy of the kind of fervent love that it gets, by the players that play it. Full stop.