Several weeks ago, I found myself sitting at the dining room table and making a puzzle as the later rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft wore on. I was getting frustrated that no one seemed to be interested in former Ohio State wide receiver K.J. Hill, and found myself critiquing the selection of another wide out who who ran a mere 4.48-second 40-yard dash (the irony that Hill himself ran a pretty abysmal 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine is not lost on me).
At this particular moment, as I was nomming a giant cookie and, once again, sitting and doing no physical activity at the time, it became clear that I was being pretty darn hypocritical. If the dude who ran a 4.48 is slow, what does that make me? Slower than a turtle walking through molasses with one of those resistance chutes trailing off behind? I’m no slouch, but my distance is a full marathon. As we learned in anatomy and physiology, I’m all “slow-twitch” muscle. Watching me try to sprint around a track is painful - for all involved.
Which leads us to the core topic of today’s column. It’s a belated draft day message, and a premature in-season message, but one that perhaps we should all begin putting into practice as we anxiously await the return of sports.
That message is thus: Maybe we shouldn’t be so harsh on the athletic prowess of student-athletes who are just out here trying to get their education at a minimum or, at the opposite end, live out their dreams of playing professionally.
I’ve been to one too many (just kidding, far too many) events where the stereotypical Uncle Vernon-looking guy with a gut and a red face indicative of impending cardiac arrest is getting even redder in the face while yelling at the “stupid idiots” on the field to play better. Sir, would you like to step in?
First, there are certain laws of the universe which we seem to forget extend to the football field. We can generally assume that the person best suited for a job will get the job, and that there are not often malicious reasons for keeping better people on the sidelines. (Yes, there are exceptions that are out of scope for this particular column.)
I know what you’re thinking: Luke Fickell was hesitant to bench Joe Bauserman in 2011. Well consider the other quarterbacks on the roster at the time: Braxton Miller was a freshman and, when Miller wound up starting, got hurt and Fickell had to put Bauserman back in. Kenny Guiton, whom we all know and love and cheer for, was the other option, but it’s not unreasonable to see why Guiton didn’t seem a viable option for Fickell.
We must recognize there are better people than us who are in charge of making football-related personnel decisions. The scouts, for instance, who made the selection of the “slow” wide receiver I can safely assume have more information than I do about him and made a better decision than I would have. Plus, despite popular belief, coaches are not idiots. I’d argue that we should all recognize how difficult that job is and maybe give these folks the benefit of the doubt sometimes.
We must also consider that no one likes losing, especially a game for a team you’re actively invested in. However, given the nature of the game, someone has to lose. There are no ties anymore in college football, and 50% of players, coaches and fans will exit the field or turn off the TV as losers week in and week out. Placing the blame on players, coaches or refs might be valid and feel good for a tiny moment, but it’s also an exercise in futility. Nothing you can do will change the outcome. No amount of complaining will make things any different. And, frankly, if we put you in pads and sent you on the field, we’d probably have a worse outcome (unless you’re reading this @JK Dobbins...we miss you already).
What I mean by this statement is that us, as fans, screaming for the coach to pull a wide receiver because he ran the wrong route, or bench a kicker because he missed it wide is futile. We raise our own blood pressure and probably annoy those around us at the stadium or the bar while getting upset over something that’s totally out of our control.
These youths successfully achieved athletic scholarships to the most competitive programs in the world. Would you deign to doubt that any Ohio State football player is not among the best players of his age in the world? What makes you think you could do better? If they missed that catch, imagine what you would have looked like out there.
We already know. Last year, after Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey missed a 43-yard field goal in the playoffs, giving the Philadelphia Eagles the win, Chicagoans went wild with criticism for the now-28-year-old, including sending death threats (come on, guys).
However, in the same spirit with which this column came to fruition, Chicago brewery Goose Island set up a 43-yard field goal challenge for 100 fans to attempt. Go figure, all 100 missed. Not as easy as it looks, guys. There’s a reason professional players make the big bucks and college players get scholarships and why, even those people who are the best in the world at kicking, can sometimes fail.
I’m not saying we should accept complacency - far from it. But there are times, like most of the time, when the other team might have made a good play on defense and that’s why the receiver didn’t catch the pass, or the defensive line overcame a block and that’s why the running back got tackled for a loss, or maybe your fastest corner just got matched up with an even faster receiver and got burned. The point is, on every play, someone will be unhappy.
We need to try to remember the positive and how it makes players better. They’re not “stupid idiots” for letting someone get past them, but they could be sharp players when they use the experience to improve their games. Keep in mind that your negative words won’t help them on that journey.
Keep in mind we haven’t even talked about the monsters who DM players after games and threaten them. That’s a whole separate category that should probably be considered harassment and involve restraining orders.
Oh, and by the way, we haven’t even gotten to the core of the argument that maybe yelling at kids is just in poor taste.
Football (or basketball or baseball or hockey or curling) is a game we all love, and, sure, there is a lot at stake, but it’s still just a game. Universities can make millions, players can make the pros - but I don’t think any of that is going to directly affect you, so maybe just cool it.
And a lesson all of us can remember: Don’t call people slow who could smoke you. And don’t be a git.