On Dec. 12, 2009, college football pundits tallied their votes and awarded the Heisman Trophy, arguably the most prestigious of all individual awards in college football, to one Mark Ingram, Jr. of the University of Alabama. He was recognized not necessarily for his game statistics, but for what he contributed to the Crimson Tide in effort, determination, and overall value while helping them earn a berth in the National Championship.
Only a sophomore, Ingram became just the third underclassman to earn the award, following Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Tim Tebow of Florida in gaining the honor, and becoming only the second running back this decade to win the trophy, joining former USC running back Reggie Bush in that category.
Such a momentous occasion was sure to be marked by the winner's family cheering loudly from the audience. Mom was there, wiping tears of joy from her eyes and hugging her son tightly; Grandma and Grandpa were there too, cheering loudly and leading the audience in the standing ovation.
But on this special day, a day that young players, coaches, and families surely dream about from little league football teams to colleges across the country, someone was conspicuously absent.
His father, Mark Ingram, Sr., was miles away in Queens, awaiting sentencing for crimes that defy explanation.
Surely a good many of the tears that Mark Jr. shed that day were for his father, a man who seemed to have had it all, only to throw it away.
It shouldn't have been that way; Mark Jr. should have been able to wrap his arms around his father in a bear hug and celebrate the award with him. Instead, he could do no more than acknowledge the influence his father has had on his life—I think we can assume he meant the "work hard, study hard, never give up and you can be a star" influence instead of the "throw it all away on meaningless, pointless crime" influence—as his father sat watching from the Queens Correctional Center.
What makes someone at the top act out in such a way that it costs them everything they worked so hard to achieve and acquire? Going even deeper, why does this seem to take on an epidemic type quality where sports stars and celebrities are concerned? Why, with all evidence pointing to the contrary, do these events continue to occur, as if those perpetrating the acts feel that they are above scrutiny, much less the law?
Sadly, Ingram is neither the biggest star to fall, nor the most recent: The world's most popular athlete—or golfer, at least—Tiger Woods, has derailed what would have been known for ages as the most prolific golfing career ever. Now, it seems, he will be known as much for how he screwed it all up as for what he accomplished.
Not to condone or defend Tiger's actions, but what makes Ingram's situation different is that to the best of my knowledge, nothing Tiger did was necessarily criminal—at least he hasn't been charged with anything other than a minor traffic violation.
Ingram, on the other hand, was not only tried and convicted of counterfeiting, but was found guilty of misdemeanor theft and felony breaking and entering. Instead of paying the piper and serving his time, which would have at least sent the message to his son that you can't commit crimes and expect to get away with it, that you should own up to and be accountable for your actions, good and bad, he decided to do what he did so well as an NFL wide receiver.
He ran. Only this time, he couldn't elude those who were chasing him.
Now, instead of serving a few short years for the crimes he committed, he faces a charge of felony flight, which, if he is convicted, will undoubtedly add more time to his stay at taxpayer's expense.
More time for him to think about what it would be like to be in the room when his son is drafted into the NFL.
Time to consider how much better it would be watching his son play his first NFL game from the stands instead of the prison commons area.
Ample opportunities to reflect on the possibility that when the name Mark Ingram comes up in polite conversation concerning football accomplishments, no one will think to ask, "Which one? Jr. or Sr.?" No, Sr. will be but a footnote in football conversation, his only recognition coming when people mention his name, shake their heads, and sigh out loud.
This man, who once made the entire defensive backfield of the Buffalo Bills look foolish as they tried to tackle him in Super Bowl XXV, the man who was on the receiving end of the now infamous "Clock Play" devised by Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, this former first round draft pick out of Michigan State University who showed and delivered so much promise, will now be forever known as a man who threw it all away.
Even if he gets through this and gets some semblance of a life back, he will still have thrown it all away, all for a little bit of cash, a few credit cards, and an inability to understand that he had what many dream of but can never achieve: fame, glory, and a future life of relative ease.
How truly sad this story is. And yet, it is not without hope.
There is hope that Mark Ingram, Sr. may yet learn his lesson and can use his experiences to help stem the flow of stars committing senseless crimes.
There is hope that Mark Ingram, Sr. can serve as an example for anyone thinking of committing similar crimes, that example being that if he couldn't get away with it, what makes you think you can?
And there is, and must be, hope that Mark Ingram, Jr. will look at what his father accomplished, what he had, and what he did to lose it all, and consequently choose a different path. That Mark Jr. will say to himself, "I will not squander this opportunity for fame and glory. I will continue to work hard, study hard, never give up, and become a superstar, one sons and fathers can look up to and hold up as an example of the RIGHT way to do things."
There is hope that, however sad this story may be now, it can eventually have the happy ending that it started off deserving.
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