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Column: Whatever C.J. Stroud decides today, we should celebrate it as the right decision for him

I know what I would do in his situation, but that doesn’t really matter.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

I am of the opinion that as fans — and more importantly, as human beings — we should not be in the business of telling other adults what is the right decision for them; especially when it comes to athletes that we only know from watching on the field, court, or ice. More so, I don’t think that we should tell other people that they’ve made the wrong decision, even if we disagree with them; a pernicious pastime for some that has gotten more and more toxic thanks to social media.

But, if you think that college players should have the ability to make money after generations before them were denied the opportunity, then you should trust them to make the best business decisions for them and their families. If you support players using their voices and platforms for things that matter to them, then you should trust them to make the best personal decisions for them and their families.

The thing is, no matter how much we think that we know about a situation that doesn’t involve us, we usually can’t even comprehend a fraction of all of the factors at play in someone else’s life, in their mind, or in their heart. So, it’s best to just trust them to make the decision that is in their best interest and support them from there.

Obviously, there are exceptions when it comes to destructive behavior and immediate health concerns, but when it is a decision about money, responsibilities, priorities, and opportunities, those of us watching from the sideline are probably better served to just sit those conversations out. Sure, we can talk about what we would do if we were in that situation, but we are just not equipped to pass judgment on someone else’s choices; we don’t know all of their individual circumstances, we don’t know what is factoring into their thought processes, we don’t know what is weighing on their hearts.

Whether it’s about when to retire, where to sign as a free agent, whether to enter the transfer portal, or whether to declare for the NFL Draft, let’s face it, 99.9% of us have no idea what goes into those decisions; how could we? In many of those cases, the money and notoriety that comes from them far exceed anything that we could comprehend. Yes, the extra zeroes on the end of a check can be incredibly alluring, but almost none of us are able to truly comprehend what it means to leave behind a legacy that doesn’t live up to our own expectations. When it comes to people who are amongst the most competitive in the world, I can’t even imagine how heavy a burden that must be.

That’s the situation that Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud finds himself in today. He has until 12 midnight ET to declare for the 2023 NFL Draft. A two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and a projected top-five pick, the assumption had been that the Rancho Cucamonga native had played his last game in the scarlet and gray when the Buckeyes lost to the eventual national champion Georgia Bulldogs in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

But, as his teammates and other highly touted prospects began to make their intentions known, Stroud stayed silent. As the days rolled by, No. 7’s lack of a declaration became increasingly conspicuous; despite being bandied about at the top of every mock draft, Stroud has technically remained outside of the official draft process. There is no doubt that if he opts to become a pro, he would be in line to make tens of millions of dollars via signing bonus alone, but Stroud has not yet made that declaration.

While the level-headed consensus is that it is an eventuality that Stroud will make himself eligible for the draft by day’s end, the fact that it has taken him this long to make such an announcement should show us what a difficult decision this is for him. Throughout his time in Columbus, the quarterback has shown that he is a deeply thoughtful and spiritual person, never missing an opportunity to thank God and talk about his religious beliefs. So perhaps it should not be as big of a surprise as it has been that he seems to be weighing more than just money when it comes to his next step.

Should he return to Ohio State, certainly increased NIL sponsorships would bridge the gap between what he made as a college quarterback in 2022 and what he would have made as a pro-QB in 2023, but he would still be turning down a lot of money in the short term and delaying the bigger, long-term money that he would make on the back end of his NFL contracts.

And while those factors are all logical, and for many of us, might be enough to push us to an easy decision, they have apparently not yet done so for C.J. — at least not publicly. And you know what? That’s ok.

One of the joys of the internet, social media, and message boards is that everybody has the opportunity to share their opinions and engage in conversation about anything they would like; of course, the downside is that everybody has the opportunity to share their opinions and engage in conversation about anything they would like.

So, inevitably, no matter what the outcome, there will be people who criticize C.J.; they will criticize him for taking as long as he did, they will criticize him for prioritizing the wrong things. If he leaves, they will criticize him for getting Ohio State fans’ hopes up, and if he stays, they will criticize him for forcing other QBs to transfer.

No matter the outcome, someone is going to say Stroud made the wrong decision, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s just not possible. No one knows what’s most important to C.J. Stroud better than C.J. Stroud. No one is able to say what is best for him and his family better than he and his family can. So whether he announces that he is running it back with his brothers this fall or that he is ready to move into the next chapter of his life and career, we should congratulate him and wish him the best.

I know you didn’t ask, but if I were in C.J.’s shoes, I would have declared for the NFL Draft two weeks ago and would already be working on moving up as high in the draft order as possible, in order to ensure that I got the biggest rookie contract that I could. But in admitting that, I appreciate that C.J. is going to make his own decision, guided by his god, his personal priorities, conversations with those closest to him, and what resides in his heart; and that’s really all that we can ask.

Whatever C.J. ends up deciding today, it will be the right decision for him, regardless of what people on the internet think or say.