Late last week, Allen Pinkett, a former Notre Dame running back and current radio broadcaster for the Irish made headlines, when he made some of the most asinine, ill-informed and not well thought out comments you’ll ever hear a public figure make.
It was in regards to the state of Notre Dame football, and the types of players the school should be recruiting. And it practically lit the internet on fire.
Here’s what Pinkett said, verbatim to WSCR-AM 670 radio in Chicago:
"I've always felt like to have a successful team you've got to have a few bad citizens on the team. That's how Ohio State used to win all the time. They would have two or three guys that were criminals and that just adds to the chemistry of the team. I think Notre Dame is growing because maybe they have some guys that are doing something worthy of a suspension which creates edge on the football team.
"You can't have a football team full of choir boys. You get your butt kicked if you've got a team full of choir boys so you've got to have a little bit of edge. But the coach has to be the dictator and the ultimate ruler. Here's my opinion: You don't hand out suspensions unless you know you've got somebody behind that guy that can make plays."
Bad citizens? Criminals? Dictators? Sounds like a terrible new show set to premiere on HBO in a few months.
It also probably wasn’t the brightest thing for Mr. Pinkett to say. He was suspended from his radio responsibilities for the Irish’s season-opener against Navy last Saturday.
Of course, collectively as a society, we also need to take a little bit of a chill pill here. The truth is that most level-headed people can look at Pinkett’s comments, read between the lines and realize that what Pinkett meant wasn’t exactly what he said. I don’t think anyone actually believes that Pinkett wants Brian Kelly to go down to Cell Block C at the state penitentiary and start handing out scholarships.
Instead, the point that most (myself included) believe that Pinkett was trying to get across, was about the type of personality which makes football players successful in general. The idea was, that to perform at an elite level, you have to have an edge to you, and at times, a complete disregard for your own personal welfare. That you might not have to be an actual criminal, but at the same time, having a couple screws loose isn’t the worst thing either. Anyone who has played football in their lives knows the type of people Pinkett are referring to.
Anyway, when Pinkett did make that statement, it made me think, specifically about one person most probably wouldn’t associate with his quotes.
It made me think of Tyrann Mathieu, my one-time college football man-crush, who is in the midst of a one-year suspension for LSU.
When breaking down Pinkett’s quote, wasn’t Mathieu the exact kind of guy he was speaking about? No, Mathieu isn’t a “criminal” (let’s get that straight), but it’s hard to argue that what makes Tyrann Mathieu plays the sport of football with a certain swagger to him. That he plays hard, he plays tough, and at times, let’s admit it, he even played a little dirty last year. That at least in football terms, Tyrann Mathieu is a little crazy. It’s what turned Mathieu from a 5’9 guy with barely any scholarship offers into the ball-hawking, nightmare-inducing “Honey Badger” that we all know and love.
Unfortunately by now we’ve also learned that the same personal disregard Mathieu has on the field, transitions off of it too. Mathieu was suspended one game last year for failing a drug test, and when he got busted for smoking weed again, was kicked off the LSU team for the entire 2012 season. As the old joke goes, “The Honey Badger don’t care.” At the time of the suspension, it seemed to be true.
From there, you know the circumstances that led to a big announcement yesterday: That after passing up the opportunity to play the 2012 season at an FCS school, and choosing instead to enroll himself in rehab in Houston, Tyrann Mathieu has returned to the LSU campus. He will take classes, but not be allowed to participate in any football related activities. Whether he elects to play at LSU in 2013 or enter the next NFL Draft appears like it’ll be determined at a later time.
Now, in the grand scheme of the sports scene, the announcement barely caused a ripple anywhere. With the season underway, the NFL kicking off Wednesday and the U.S. Open coming down the home-stretch, the headline of “Tyrann Mathieu, regular college student” doesn’t exactly grab headlines.
Still, it should. Tyrann Mathieu made a decision that will impact the rest of his life yesterday. And he should be commended for it.
The simple truth is that for all the problems Mathieu has had in the past, the Honey Badger had plenty of options going forward. Yes, he was kicked off LSU’s team a few weeks ago, but let’s also remember he wasn’t suspended from playing college football in general. Every school has a different drug policy, and like Da’Rick Rogers at Tennessee, Mathieu could’ve left LSU, gone somewhere else and played right away. He then could’ve likely left for the NFL in April, and made plenty of money. Maybe not the money he would’ve made if he hadn’t gotten suspended in the first place. But good money, none the less.
That would’ve been the easy decision though.
Instead, Mathieu took the much harder way out. Instead of choosing the easy road, he took the one less traveled. He decided to really look at himself, really figure out who he is and say “I don’t care about Tyrann Mathieu the football player. I need to work on myself as a person.” He made the decision that will impact the next 50 years of his life, rather than looking at the short-term NFL dollar signs.
And in every sense of the word, Tyrann Mathieu made the right decision by staying at LSU. Both from a personal and football sense.
Admittedly, on the personal side it’s easy to argue that Mathieu staying in Baton Rouge is a bad idea. After all, all the same circumstances which got him in trouble in the first place (the people, the parties, the weed itself) are all still there. Had he elected to go somewhere else Mathieu would’ve been able to get a fresh start. By staying in Baton Rouge, he could fall to the same temptations. Believe me when I say, I understand that argument.
At the same time, let’s remember a few things here.
For one, there’s weed on every college campus in America. If Tyrann Mathieu or any other 18-22-year-old kid wants weed, they will get it. Whether they’re playing football or are a regular student, and whether they’re at LSU, McNeese State or Harvard.
Really though, this isn’t about the college culture, as much as it is the culture around the LSU football program. For that reason alone, I believe it was best for Mathieu to stick around.
That’s because if we’ve learned one thing through the years, it’s that in a sport where many programs claim to be a “family atmosphere,” LSU’s really is. Remember, this was the same team that stood by Jordan Jefferson last year, and even wrote his number on their cleats while he was suspended. It was also the same team who made similar gestures when Mathieu and Tharold Simon were suspended for a game last year as well. Even when Les Miles made the official announcement that Mathieu would be gone for 2012, it was easy to see the anguish on his face with the decision.
And if you know LSU football- I mean if you really know it- you also probably know that Miles’ anguish didn’t come as a “football coach,” upset that he had to boot his best player. No, no. It came from “Les Miles the father,” the one who at some point went into Tyrann Mathieu’s house on a recruiting visit and promised his parents that LSU football would take care of their boy. If anything, I bet Les Miles was more disappointed that he couldn’t do anything to help Mathieu, than he was upset at Mathieu himself.
Knowing all that, I find it hard to believe that those same people at LSU will let Mathieu fail. Yes, Mathieu can’t participate in football activities, but these are still his friends, his brothers and his teammates. Even if they’re not around him 24/7 like before, you don’t think they’ll be watching over him? Protecting him? Making sure (as best they can anyway), that he doesn’t make any decisions that are going to cost him going forward? Knowing what I know about LSU football, I suspect they will.
As for the football perspective, it made sense for Mathieu to stay at LSU too.
Again, it would’ve been easy to go the FCS route, go dominate and go get paid in April. A lot of guys have done it before. A lot of guys will do it in the future. And no one has blamed a single one of them.
Still, in strictly a football sense, what was there for Mathieu to really accomplish at the FCS level? He was already the best ball-hawking, playmaking, defensive back in the sport, and he did against the best competition in college football last year. Would his draft stock really have been helped by doing the same thing (or maybe even a bit more) against second-tier competition, in front of 1,500 people in Dead Possum, MS? I doubt it.
And really, whether Mathieu ever plays another down at LSU or not, I suspect that his decision to stay at the school did more in NFL scouts eyes than going and playing somewhere else would’ve. Sure an extra year of football would’ve helped, but we already know Tyrann Mathieu can play ball. What we were unsure of was what was between the ears, whether Mathieu had his head on straight and his nose clean. For lack of a better term, we wondered if “Honey Badger cared.”
By electing to return to LSU for the fall of 2012, Tyrann Mathieu proved that.
My former college football man-crush dominated a kid’s sport with a man’s demeanor last year. Unfortunately, he also did it with the attitude of a child.
Well by coming back to LSU on Monday, Tyrann Mathieu may have made the first adult decision of his life.
Let’s hope it’s not the last.
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