Many of you are probably aware that I have been very critical of the game of football and the type of people/athletes that the game attracts. I’ve been pretty subtle about it, but yeah, it’s there.
I’ve never denied the possibility that football can be a game that encourages discipline, hard work and structure while being an enjoyable event. The problem is that it can be either that or a game of chaos and extreme brutality that encourages barbarism on and off the field, and recent years has shown much more of the latter occurring. Critics of mine can point out that bad eggs are present in all sports and walks of life, but that still can’t erase the fact that such individuals are coming out of the game of football much more frequently and with little to no outrage about it from the public.
But maybe, just maybe, that attitude could be on the verge of changing.
If there is a silver lining in seeing the horrific abuse that Ray Rice laid on Janay Palmer, it’s that it might have snapped enough people out of their state of denial and realized that abusive violence committed by football players (and yes, on a smaller scale, athletes in general) is a serious problem that not enough has been done about. Numerous other sports leagues like the NHL have cracked down on such actions, and done so without bungling it like Roger Goodell did with Rice.
But if there’s one event that might be a true sign of that, it would be standout Maryland high school quarterback Kai Locksley flipping his commitment at near the last moment and deciding to go to the University of Texas instead of Florida State.
The knock on Charlie Strong when Texas hired him was that he was too old-fashioned and hard. His tough, discipline-driven style could never win over kids in a world were recruits can get helicopter rides to campus from recruiters – add that to the list of complaints the spoiled boosters of the Whiny Orange have with Strong.
Well, so much for that theory. Texas signed a top 10 recruiting class last week, highlighted by linebackers Mailk Jefferson and Anthony Wheeler as well as the number one tight end according to ESPN, Devonaire Clarington.
But Locksley was the one Texas fans have to be jumping for joy over, seeing him as the solution the Horns need at quarterback after enduing the past season with Tyrone Swoopes. But it’s not just the fact that Strong landed this particular kid but where he poached him from where the change in football’s culture may lie.
I remember one of my Twitter followers saying that Strong’s best weapon in recruiting is “you win over the parent, you win the kid.” I think it’s safe to suggest that this was the case with Locksley, with Strong convincing his parents that Texas would be a much better place for their kid.
You can’t tell me that the horror stories coming out of Florida State, where not only was Jameis Winston accused of rape and stealing crab legs, but there has been a laundry list of incidents where FSU players committed heinous acts and the Tallahassee police simply looked the other way, started drawing concerns from the parents of talented but impressionable high school athletes.
Would you want to send your kid to an atmosphere like that?
It looks like Locksley’s parents did not. And when Strong came knocking on their door to offer a much different environment, the choice became obvious.
Texas was right there with Florida State for years, especially in the final years of Mack Brown’s term as coach. Players making headlines for the wrong reasons in the weeks leading up to bowl season were too common an occurrence for the program. Brown had always been known as someone who would coddle his players, but it was clear by the end that the inmates were running the asylum.
But things appear to be changing in Austin, with not just the new coach but a new athletics director and a new president on the way. If Steve Patterson will back his football coach and start telling the likes of Red McCombs to stay out of their business, the change could be complete.
It’s a new culture the Orangebloods should embrace. Brown’s practice of spoiling his players had to be a factor in his teams always underperforming for the talent they had. By contrast, Gary Patterson has built a tough winning program against the odds through strong discipline while still having the backs of his players. If Texas infuses that type of atmosphere in addition to the talent they can draw on the name alone, they could be the greatest force in college football.
There is how football could be used to make boys into better men – using the games intensity to focus them and learn the lessons of structure and boundaries, both on and off the field. It’s a practice that has been slipping away over the years in favor of a culture of chaos and unbridled brutality, and the results have been way too many stories on SportsCenter involving police reports.
Football needs such a shot in the arm, because with more and more stories like Rice and Winston and Aaron Hernandez along with a growing concern regarding concussions, more and more parents are showing concern over whether their kids should play that sport when there are plenty of other athletic options available. It’s a bigger problem than a lot of die-hard fans like Daniel Flynn want to admit, and something has to change if you want your beloved sport to endure.
Is it too soon to say things are definitely going to turn around? Perhaps.
But if the viewing public never forgets the horrors committed by people like Ray Race and are willing to embrace more people like Charlie Strong, maybe even this cranky, snarky sports fan and writer will find little to complain about regarding the game.