Character Matters

It’s the continuing saga of lives gone wrong. It’s a reflection of a culture in a downward spiral. At the beginning of the college football season, Oregon played Boise State on national television. I’m neither a fan nor a follower of either team. I don’t know who won, and I don’t really care. I do know that for years to come, what happened after the game will be played over and over again as an example of someone who made one decision that changed the course of their life.

The day after the game, Oregon’s running back LeGarrette Blount was through—suspended for a totally unacceptable display that looked more like gang action than competitive sports. At the end of the game, he sucker punched Boise State’s defensive end, Byron Hout.

What Hout might have said to Blount is irrelevant. Anyone can trash talk, but it takes a man of character to walk away and ignore it. By all reports, Blount is a troubled young man. He is out of shape, undisciplined, and not a team player. He acts like a thug and is suffering the consequences. No more football. Not this year, maybe never again.

A young man who was once a potential second or third round NFL draft pick has most likely made himself undraftable. Although a productive runner last year, he lacks the discipline and self-control needed if he wants to excel.

I don’t care what anyone says, whether it’s the Boise players or the Boise fans. The only one Blount hurt was himself. I take that back; he hurt his team, his reputation, the image of the university, and pretty much everyone who might pride themselves in being an Oregon Duck (why anyone would want a Duck for a mascot is beyond me, but that’s another blog).

Although Blount apologized, the coach dismissed him for the remainder of the season. He should be grateful he didn’t lose his scholarship. I personally believe he should have. The head coach said, “That’s not what we’re all about. That’s not what we coach. That’s not what we stand for and it’s unacceptable.”

The coach said he hopes Blount’s legacy “won’t be a YouTube clip of what happened to him on September 3rd in Boise, Idaho.” Too late, Coach. We live in a YouTube world. It’s probably going to follow him the rest of his life unless he dramatically changes.

Oregon president Richard Lariviere called Blount’s behavior reprehensible. “We do not and will not tolerate the actions that were taken by our player. Oregon’s loyal fans expect and deserve better,” Lariviere said in a statement.

Blount, a 6’ 2”, 240-pound transfer from East Mississippi CC, rushed for 1,002 yards and set a school record with 17 touchdowns last season. No more. It’s over. Why? Probably because this is not new behavior. According to the AP, “In February, Blount was suspended indefinitely from the team for ‘failure to fulfill team obligations.’ Bellotti did not share details, but Blount reportedly missed offseason team meetings.”

What a difference from what I read recently in Coach Tony Dungy’s book, UNCOMMON. The opening chapter of the book is about character. The Indianapolis Colts had a choice several years ago with their number one draft pick: Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning. They chose Manning. Wise choice. Manning had a better work ethic and a commitment to the team. Leaf was a wash-out in the NFL.

Dungy says that on the Colts’ evaluation form for talent they have a box that says “DO NOT DRAFT BECAUSE OF CHARACTER.” There were players—excellent players—that the Colts passed on because of their questionable character.

We all know the NFL has a black eye for players with repeated run-ins with the law. Michael Vick comes to mind, as does Plaxico Burress with the NY Giants. Both have or will pay a big price for poor decision making.

We’ve lost character as a virtue in this land. Talent is not enough. Abilities are not enough. If we are going to look to athletes as our role models, we should expect more of them. We should demand more of them. It’s not enough to know X’s and O’s. It’s more important that you know how to be a person of character and integrity. Football will end. Character, or lack thereof, will follow you to the grave.

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