When the back-to-back Lawrence Phillips and Aaron Hernandez stories broke this month, my first thought was the standard one many of you probably had: Why do these guys who have everything--money, fame, talent, girls--throw it away? How difficult can it be to not murder, deal drugs, beat women or intentionally run over teenagers, especially when the benefit of abstaining from such behaviors is the chance to lead a lifestyle that 99.99 percent of the world can only fantasize about?
But then, as a college football fan, I started thinking about the schools where these guys honed their talents. A big part of following a college team is keeping up with our favorite players at the next level. That's why so many Tennessee fans pull for the Broncos on Sundays, and Michigan fans for New England. When guys who played for our college team succeed in the NFL, and especially when they exemplify class and humility in doing so, a sense of pride infuses us that, while different from the feeling we get watching current players triumph, still makes us feel good about wearing that t-shirt out to Applebee's.
But what about those players who don't do the right things, don't make the papers for the right reasons, don't reflect well on the program we expend so much energy backing every autumn? How do those guys fit into our fandom? Do we pretend they never existed or played for our school? Forget about the years we spent cheering for them? Make self-deprecating jokes at our team's expense? (I've heard some great ones from Florida fans already.)
I can still remember picking up the Knoxville newspaper one morning in 2003 and shuddering when I read the bold, 72-point headline. Dwayne Goodrich, former UT defensive back best known for a pick-six in the 1998 BCS title game that put the Vols up 14-0 against Florida State, had been arrested for DUI hit-and-run. The accident killed two Good Samaritans. When I browsed the Tennessee message boards later that day, I found dozens of fans trying to disown the guy as a Vol. I understood their anger, but if Goodrich isn't a Vol, then FSU is the 1998 champ, and I doubt most of those fans want to give up the crystal football.
Besides, I'm convinced every program has at least one major pariah, which means you shouldn't be too ashamed of yours. Some are more obvious than others, like the aforementioned Phillips (Nebraska) and Hernandez (Florida). Then there's Southern Cal, which had a Heisman Trophy winner from 1968 dominate the news during the '90s for some unsavory stuff. (Hint: his initials are also those of a popular breakfast drink.)
Rae Carruth from Colorado is another gimme. Buffs fans can scour the annals, but I doubt they find an example that tops putting a hit on a pregnant girlfriend. Ditto for Cal's Robert Rozier, who admitted to killing seven people in 1985 as part of a cult initiation.
But some examples are more nebulous. For instance, is Michael Vick the guy for Virginia Tech? He did some awful stuff, but then he served his time, stayed out of trouble, and, by some estimates, saved more dogs through his awareness efforts than he harmed/killed during his dogfighting days.
What about Ray Lewis from Miami, indicted for double homicide in 2000? A prosecutor dismissed the charges in exchange for a guilty plea for obstruction of justice and testimony against Lewis's cohorts (read: snitching). But the deceased's blood was all over his limo, the white suit he wore that night was never found, and he has stubbornly refused to give the victims' families closure by spilling everything he knows. Seems to me that he should be a shoe-in, but from the fawning I witnessed during 2013 Super Bowl week, a lot of folks around college and pro football disagree.
Even Goodrich from Tennessee is questionable. He killed two people with his carelessness, then dug himself a deeper hole with his foolish and cowardly 20-hour delay before owning up to his mistake. But like Vick, he served his time and seems to have dedicated his life to preventing others from suffering the same fate as his victims.
I could keep going, but there are 127 FBS schools, and I doubt you care who I think is the biggest pariah for each of them. But I'm interested to hear from you. Namely, what school(s) you pull for, and which player(s) you think have brought the most shame. And also, how do you react when people mention that person's name in connection with your school/team?