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Sunday, April 7, 2013

He's Just Trying to Be a Football Player, Not Ambassador to the Court of St. James

I'm beginning to think we expect too much of athletes, at least when it comes to the whole role-model thing.  A few weeks ago, two star high-school football players from Steubenville, Ohio, were convicted of raping an unconscious girl at a series of parties.  The case gained national notoriety due to the fact that the assault was recorded and uploaded to the internet.  While few questioned the appropriateness of the verdict, there was much lamentation and gnashing of teeth over the "wasted" futures of these young men, whose dreams of football scholarships were now as destroyed as--oh, I don't know--as destroyed as the life of a teenage rape victim.  I don't feel much sympathy.

Still, I couldn't help but think of this case, as I read today the story of Josh Jarboe, a likely NFL draft pick out of Arkansas State.

Jarboe, too, was written off as a lost cause early on in his collegiate career: He was cut from Oklahoma and bombed out at subsequent colleges.  His initial offense?  Appearing in an amateurish, freestyle rap video where he seemingly endorsed the "thug life": fast cars, faster women, violence.  While I am no fan of the genre, I hardly think an affinity for gangsta rap disqualifies one from a career of catching a football.

I do not equate these two cases: The Steubenville players committed a felonious assault and received appropriate punishment.  Had the players been acquitted in a court of law, high-profile college football programs would have been well advised to avoid recruiting them: I imagine many female students and their friends and loved ones would have a problem with such a recruitment.  Nevertheless, a certain "equation" of these cases--along with cases involving drug use, gambling, and other offenses against normative society--occurs simply by virtue of the fact that the automatic punishment--a loss of playing opportunity--is the same. 

I understand Oklahoma's position: They don't want to recruit a player who will reflect badly on the university.  But frankly, freestyle-rapping is just an offense against good taste, not civil society.  At this point, if a star athlete can just play the game and avoid shooting, dog-fighting, or raping anybody on the way to the locker room, I think we should all be thankful.

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