Defending LeGarrette Blount: Why It's Time to Abandon the Character Concerns
As a big fan of LeGarrette Blount, I've been frustrated for almost three years.
I was frustrated when Blount lost his temper and punched Boise State's Byron Hout.
I was frustrated when Blount punched a teammate in Titans training camp two years ago.
I was frustrated last Thursday when the Buccaneers traded up to draft Doug Martin, who will likely steal some carries away from Blount.
What frustrates me most, though, is how many people refuse to see beyond these things when they hear LeGarrette Blount's name.
On September 3, 2009 in Boise, Idaho, LeGarrette Blount became the most hated player in college football.
The night started with a ceremonial handshake between the Oregon Ducks and the Boise State Broncos to celebrate a season of sportsmanship. The matchup was nationally televised, and America was ready for some football.
After a loss to Boise State in 2008, Blount had hyped up the game up by saying "we owe that team an a**-whooping."
Blount ended up being held to minus-five yards rushing on eight attempts by Boise State's defense. The Broncos defeated Oregon 19-8 in one of the ugliest games of football I have ever seen.
We all know what happened next. Blount's temper and frustration got the best of him when his right fist connected with Boise State linebacker Byron Hout's face. Blount then had to be corralled by several players and coaches and led into the locker room due to his uncontrollable frustration. He was immediately suspended for the rest of the season.
That's the story we all know and love to hate.
Now, before I start in on my defense of LeGarrette Blount I want to make one thing clear. I do not advocate or support him resorting to physical violence. On the contrary, his decision to punch Byron Hout and subsequent temper tantrum were both inexcusable.
With that being said, there are a few points that clearly need to be made in Blount's defense.
Let's start with why Blount thought Oregon owed Boise State an "a**-whooping."
Many are content with attributing this quote to the Oregon running back's frustration with a 2008 loss to the Broncos. In fairness to Blount, we need to do a little more homework. When these two teams squared off in 2008, a year before Blount hit Byron Hout, two Boise State defenders laid a couple of the most dirty and dangerous hits I have ever seen in a football game. The player who made the second hit on Ed Dickson was even ejected from the game.
Sure, Blount shouldn't have resorted to inappropriate language in his prediction for the 2009 matchup. However, you can't tell me his frustration was unjustified after seeing those vicious cheap shots. I'd say lowering your helmet into a quarterback's jaw a good four steps after he released the ball is at least as dangerous and hostile as Blount's punch.
But hey, at least all college players are held to the same standard as Blount was, right? You tell me.
Let's take a look at some more hits from the last few seasons that were at least as cheap and as dangerous as Blount's punch that received a lighter punishment and significantly less national attention.
How about Michigan State's William Gholston's face mask on Denard Robinson well after the whistle? This extremely dangerous play earned a 15-yard penalty and no ejection, despite the fact that it could have easily resulted in a broken neck. Gholston was later ejected for punching a player who had his helmet on, and was suspended for only one game.
Florida's Brandon Spikes attempted to gouge Georgia's Washaun Ealey's eyes out. Despite his horrifying, hostile and entirely unreasonable intentions, Spikes was only suspended for one half of a game (against Vanderbilt). Keep in mind that Blount was initially suspended for an entire season.
Nick Fairley put three egregiously flagrant late hits on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. These hits could have resulted in severe back or knee injuries for Murray, and all of them were well after the ball was gone. Fairley's dirty play eventually sparked a brawl between these two teams, during which the Auburn defensive tackle could be seen celebrating with a coach. This truly upsetting sight got no national attention. He was not suspended or ejected for any of these cheap shots.
LSU's beloved "Honey Badger" Tyrann Mathieu laid a blatantly dirty and unnecessary clothesline on Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick during a punt return. Kirkpatrick was down for several minutes and could have seriously injured his neck on the play. Mathieu was obviously willing to sacrifice 15 yards for his team in exchange for making a dangerous play. Yet this move received no further punishment or national attention.
Marquel Wade of Arkansas delivered a huge blow to Vanderbilt's Jonathan Krause after he had called for a fair catch on a punt return. Not only was this hit hideous and wildly illegal, but Wade also proceeded to celebrate as if he had done something praiseworthy. This hit resulted only in an ejection and a one-game suspension despite the fact that it could have resulted in severe head or neck injuries.
Remember Byron Hout? Take a look at how much his character has improved since he taunted Blount. After TCU's Casey Pachall was clearly down, Hout grabbed his helmet and jerked it in a sickening upward motion. The play could have resulted in a serious neck injury. It was at least as dangerous, hostile and cheap as Blount's punch.
In fact, all of these plays were at least as dangerous, hostile and cheap as Blount's punch. But none received more than a one game suspension and none received national attention.
If social consensus is comfortable with a half-game suspension for attempted eye theft, then Blount shouldn't have been suspended for more than five minutes.
Blount's poor reputation followed him out of Oregon, as he failed to get drafted in 2010. However, the Titans, having just lost power back LenDale White, "took a chance" and signed him before training camp.
Things were looking up for Blount, until he threw another punch at a Titans teammate during practice. ESPN jumped on the opportunity to make the running back look even worse, showing the clip repeatedly on SportsCenter.
What most people failed to mention was why Blount lost his temper again. Being a question mark on the Titans' roster, he was trying to make the most of every carry he got in practice to prove to coaches that he should make the team. This was proving to be a challenge as defensive end Eric Bakhtiari, the man he hit, kept ripping Blount's helmet off so the plays had to be whistled dead. Not only is this a dangerous and hostile move, but it kept Blount from making the most of his reps.
On top of that, Blount was probably on edge after missing two practices earlier in the week due to the death of his grandmother, an event Bakhtiari must have known about.
Again, I'm not supporting his physical violence, but this was ridiculous. Tempers flare in training camp almost every day, especially with young guys trying to make the team. The fact that anyone even heard about this second punch is outrageous.
In fact, head coach Jeff Fisher also defended Blount: "He apologized, and I said he didn't have to apologize," Fisher said. "It's football. It's training camp...Is that the first punch you've seen in camp this year? No. I'm not disappointed whatsoever. I have great confidence in the young man that he learned from his mistake, and he's very competitive. That's why we brought him in here is to watch him run the football like that."
Fisher's response was extremely satisfying to me. Had any other player on any other team thrown this punch, there is no way it would have received national attention.
But hey, at least all NFL players are held to such high standards right? You tell me.
In November of 2010, Andre Johnson decided to use Cortland Finnegan as a punching bag. After Finnegan got a good amount of face mask while pressing the Texan receiver off the line, Johnson ripped off Finnegan's helmet and landed two vicious punches on his head. Johnson was ejected from the game, as was Finnegan, but neither were suspended.
There are so many things I need to point out when comparing this to Blount's punch.
First of all, the only critique of this brawl that I've ever heard is that Cortland Finnegan needs to learn how to fight. America hated Blount for his punch, but Johnson received a standing ovation on his way out of the stadium after his outburst.
Second, Johnson's excuse for hitting Finnegan was that he "just lost his cool." Isn't that exactly what happened with Blount when Hout came up and taunted him after the game against Boise State? Yet Andre Johnson has no lingering reputation as a dirty player and there are no character concerns surrounding his name.
On top of that, Johnson was a repeat offender. In 2009, he was fined $7,500 for taking Finnegan, the same player he punched, down to the ground by his facemask.
I don't mean to defend Finnegan here. He is as much to blame as Johnson is for provoking this fight. However, he and Johnson received the exact same punishment when Finnegan did not even throw one punch. He was basically guilty of making Johnson "lose his cool." On the other hand, after Blount hit Hout, hardly anyone even talked about the fact that Hout had provoked Blount by blatantly taunting him.
Third, I'd just like to point out that Jeff Fisher, the same coach that approved of Blount's punch in training camp, said of this brawl, "It's not good for the game. You don't want to see that stuff."
Let's move on to Blount's time in the NFL. In his rookie year, he absolutely exploded. In only 13 games, Blount totaled 1,007 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. He became one of the best and most exciting backs in the entire NFL.
Granted, last season his production slipped a bit. However, this was largely due to nagging injuries and the fact that the entire Buccaneers team completely crumbled after midseason. He still managed to total 781 yards and five touchdowns.
For a while, I thought my frustration might be done for good.
Then, the Buccaneers traded up to take Doug Martin in the first round of last week's draft.
General analysis of this pick immediately brought my frustration back to life. Some are still bringing Blount's character concerns into the conversation when analyzing his play, referring to him as a head case. Many assume, despite the fact there are almost no feature backs in the NFL anymore, that Doug Martin will come in and completely take over for Blount.
I don't know what Blount has to do to prove himself. He can truck, outrun, spin past and jump over defenders all in the same play. If he did not show that he deserves to be a number one back last year against the Packers, then I give up.
It is also discouraging that Blount has been classified as a head case for his mistakes, and that those mistakes still overshadow his talent.
When I type "LeGarrette Blount" into any search engine, the word "punch" still comes up before the word "highlights" despite the fact that he has made some of the most impressive and exciting runs I have ever seen.
I know many have forgiven Blount or have lost the passionate hatred they once felt for him. But so many football fans and analysts have held onto what they saw on September 3, 2009 so dearly. Why?
What Blount experienced that night was a perfect storm of media attention. His aggressive quote put the spotlight on him before he even stepped on the field. The game was not only nationally televised, but it was the first of the season. It was also preceded by a team-wide handshake to celebrate sportsmanship. After the game, ESPN ensured everyone got a good look at Blount's punch, playing the clip over and over again on SportsCenter.
I am not trying to justify Blount's actions. I am trying to explain them. It's easy to hate him for his unsportsmanlike actions. But, at the very least, any criticism needs to be accompanied by acknowledgement of the fact that he was excessively provoked before punching both Byron Hout and Eric Bakhtiari.
If you still hate LeGarrette Blount for what he's done, then think about this. We've all made impulsive mistakes while we were frustrated. Sure, I can't defend the violence, but not many of us have had the misfortune of ourselves at our very worst being broadcast on national television.
Compare Blount's punches to the videos of the other dirty hits I've supplied in this article. All of those hits were at least as dirty and dangerous as anything Blount has ever done. On top of that, almost all of these other hits were entirely unprovoked. Yet none of them received punishments of more than one game suspensions while Blount was initially suspended for the entire 2009 season.
No one close to Blount seems to have any concerns about his character. When Oregon head coach Chip Kelly saw the effort he was making to improve his discipline and get back on the field, he allowed Blount to come back and play in the final few games of the season. Jeff Fisher and Raheem Morris have both coached Blount in the NFL, and neither seem to see any issues involving his character.
It's time to let go of Blount's reputation as a head case. No other recent player has been hated so much for such small scale mistakes.
LeGarrette Blount did not become my favorite player until September 3, 2009. It was not because he punched Byron Hout. It was not because of his temper tantrum. It was because of his immediate apology. An apology marking the beginning of a long road back to the football field that required hard work, improved discipline and character.
I saw the same thing that everyone else did that night. I've just chosen to focus on the positive and learn from my favorite player's mistakes. His path to the NFL has taught me the importance of hard work, discipline and character. He has been my role model for as long as I've been frustrated, and I am not a head case.
Blount's punch and subsequent temper tantrum were unacceptable and unnecessary. But so has been football nation's widespread grudge against him.
Based on his recent success, hard work and improved discipline, Blount has clearly learned from his mistakes and moved on. It's time for everyone else to do the same.
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