If you typed the words “Carlos Hyde” into Twitter during the Ohio State-Northwestern game, you were treated to a buffet of wide-ranging responses.
Social media, after all, tends to offer the best and worst of both sides.
Some of these tweets offered praise for the Buckeye running back in the midst of a legendary performance, one that helped guide his team to a massive comeback victory on the road. Hyde finished with 168 yards rushing, 38 yards receiving and three touchdowns—with a great deal of this production coming in the final 30 minutes.
But others, as they watched Hyde break tackle after tackle, instead focused on whether he should have been playing the game at all, following a now infamous offseason incident at a Columbus nightclub. And in true Twitter form—where the message is often destroyed and replaced with anger, expletives and avatar-protected rage—many of these responses were tough reading.
It’s important to note, first and foremost, that Carlos Hyde was never charged with any crime following said incident on July 20. This cannot possibly be stressed enough here.
Hyde was accused of assaulting a woman, and he was suspended from all team activities immediately. It had been initially reported that the starting back was kicked off the team, but the Buckeyes took a wait-and-see approach. In that time grainy video of the incident was released, which was difficult to truly see, let alone comprehend exactly what happened. The alleged female victim decided not to file charges.
Carlos Hyde will be suspended for at least the first three games of the 2013 season for conduct not representative of this football program or this university. He will be required to fulfill additional obligations before he is allowed to play in a game.
After serving his three-game suspension, Hyde’s workload has gradually increased over the past three games. From five carries, to 17, to 23, culminating in a career-high rushing total on Saturday, the impressive output has brought the offseason issues full circle, for some.
Hyde, himself, was incredibly emotional after Saturday, breaking down at the podium while fielding questions.
The situation evokes many emotions, and with the uncertainty surrounding the night Hyde’s football career nearly unraveled, his name alone will generate strong response for as long as he carries the football.
It doesn’t matter that there were no charges; the fact that there was an incident involving a female and the word “assault” is enough for some. The allegations were both serious and disgusting, but the situation is complicated, given the hazy evidence and eventual outcome. This puts some fans of the team—not to mention the sport itself—in a tricky conundrum.
Do you cheer for this person now that the legal process has played out?
Was his involvement and the mystery around it enough to alter your rooting interests?
Are you excited for the moment itself, completely disconnected from the player?
Are you disgusted every time he takes the field, booing at each and every carry?
There’s no code of conduct for this, no protocol to follow. Each person’s response is theirs alone. Hyde’s situation is uniquely complicated.
LSU faced a similar situation with running back Jeremy Hill. Unlike Hyde, however, Hill was charged with simple battery following a fight in a parking lot and video that showed Hill punching the victim in the head. And this was also not his first run-in with the law.
Hill was suspended the first game of the season and played in each since. Like Hyde, Hill has been incredibly productive at the position, running for 157 yards and two touchdowns against Mississippi State in Week 6.
Comparing the two is unfair to the players and the schools. These are vastly different situations, and charges occurred in only one instance.
Both, however, highlight the vulnerability of fandom. It’s easy to become emotionally invested in the members of the teams we root for. After a while, it becomes natural and there’s a connection beyond wearing a jersey, using a team-centric cozy or cheering at the game. There’s an emotional connection of sorts, one between you and the team (or perhaps individual players).
And so we create our own Achilles' heel. We know very little about the lives of the players, coaches and personnel involved beyond what they do for 60 minutes on roughly 13 Saturdays a year. It’s good enough for us, and there’s comfort in the distance.
When there is an issue—perhaps a legal development of some kind—it’s assumed that we’ve been granted access to the inner sanctum of the character we’ve rooted for. The player suddenly becomes the person, and our fandom becomes a two-edged sword.
But what about the athletes we don’t hear from? The clock in, perform, and clock out majority? Does that make them good people by default? Of course not.
We operate off these assumptions that they are because we have no choice. That’s not to say that a good portion of the players and coaches we root for are good at heart, but there’s no basis to go off.
This is why the discussion of “character” in those who vote for the Heisman—seemingly factoring in these outside factors for their own justification—is flawed, manufactured logic.
When it comes down to it, how much do we really know?
In the instance of Carlos Hyde, we’ve been given access to a window. The thought of the incident is still cringe-inducing and horrifying—despite the haziness surrounding—and that’s enough for many to establish their opinion of the player.
It’s an opinion that everyone is 100 percent entitled to.
When it comes down to it, it’s where we draw the line, if such a line exists. It’s much easier to operate through jersey numbers, tallies in the win column and positive developments on the scoreboard, but following this emotionless, robotic protocol is anything but.