Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once quipped, “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” Some current football players, however, are betting otherwise, and their actions speak volumes about our modern time.
Outside of opening presents on Christmas morning and the ball dropping in Time Square on New Year’s Eve, nothing says the holiday season more to a sports fan than the college bowl games, where from early December to early January a sports junkie can feast on a barrage of games.
But what if they scheduled the college bowls and college football’s best players decided not to come? This is not such a hypothetical question but more of an emerging trend. This year two of the best amateur running backs in the country, Christian McCafffrey of Stanford and Leonard Fournette of LSU, have decided not to play in their team’s final game.
In a statement posted to his Twitter account McCaffrey wrote, “Very tough decision, but I have decided not to play in the Sun Bowl, so I can begin my draft prep immediately. Thanks to all my teammates for their 100 percent support — it means a lot to me. Go Cardinal!” When people questioned Fournette’s commitment after he backed out of LSU’s bowl game, he tweeted out a photo of him and his young daughter with the caption, “Only person I owe something to.”
If you haven’t caught on why this is happening let me clue you in. Both McCaffrey and Fournette have the potential to make millions playing in the NFL. Football is a rough and violent sport, and one of the things that can derail their potential good fortune is if they suffer a catastrophic injury in their last game as an amateur.
I’m a free market capitalist and have even written about how colleges, universities and the NCAA have been taking advantage of premium athletes for years by not monetarily compensating them. That said, this new trend of skipping the bowl games stinks, and that smell is cultural rot.
First, to Leonard Fournette who tweeted that his daughter is the only person he owes something to: no, actually, life isn’t that simple. You also owe something to your teammates, the fans of LSU, and Louisiana State University. They supported you, gave you the opportunity to play and become a star, and you have bailed on them before your commitment was up and before the season was over. To Christian McCaffrey, who claims his teammates support his decision 100%: if you actually believe that, then you have a lot to learn about life, especially if you don’t understand that deep down a lot of your teammates now respect you less and resent you more.
Another disappointing aspect about Fournette and McCaffrey is the positive support they received from the media for their decision. Many in the press saw nothing improper in the pair’s decision. This isn’t surprising, as in our modern secular age we have lost the concept laid out by our Judeo-Christian belief system that how we treat others matters. When the Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” becomes “Every man for himself,” it is assuredly a culture in decline. Fournette and McCaffrey made a commitment to play the season and have quit on that commitment so as to serve themselves, and their commitments and obligations to others is now subservient to their desire for self.
What Fournette and McCaffrey may not have calculated is that violating other people’s trust often has a way of coming back to haunt you. Is it not conceivable that between now and draft day the pair’s draft stock slips? After all, if you’re an NFL executive, wouldn’t you hesitate before drafting either one of them? Do you really want to invest heavily in a player with a history of putting himself before the team?
Both young men, I’m sure, have visions of greatness for themselves in the NFL. But my observation has been that the truly great athletes not only have superior athletic talent but also an insatiable desire to compete. Can you imagine Tom Brady begging out of his last game at Michigan or Pete Rose at the 1970 All Star game, tip-toeing into home plate instead of barreling over Ray Fosse as it was only an exhibition game? Of course not, because Vince Lombardi had it correct: winners never quit.
In a way, Fournette and McCaffrey didn’t just quit on their teammates but, without realizing it, also quit on themselves.