Ohio State: An Open Letter to Buckeye Fans (And College Sports Fans in General)

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Ohio State: An Open Letter to Buckeye Fans (And College Sports Fans in General)
David Purdy/Getty Images
Is it all Number 2's fault? What about all those fans behind him?

 

WARNING: The following article is rude. It is offensive. In fact, it’s downright incendiary. I fully expect it to anger you, startle you and piss you off. I expect to get a bunch of comments screaming, “How dare you!” and “F*** off.” And you know what? I don’t care.

I don’t care anymore because I’m tired. I’m tired of the news stories and the headlines. I’m tired of the revelations and new discoveries. I’m tired of the discussions, the questions, and the myriad of facebook statuses. I’m tired of every Tom, Dick and Harry who’s ever thought he was part of the "in-crowd" or connected to college sports spouting his mouth off on TV or in a magazine and "telling his side of the story."

Most of all, I’m sick of waiting.

 

Dear Buckeyes, football fans, and college sports fans in general,

 

If you have a pulse and have been anywhere near a TV, newspaper, or computer in the past four months, then you of course know of the growing scandal that is present within Ohio State Football. You know about the Tat-Five and the cover-up. You’ve heard the stories about the car deals. You’ve probably read or are at least familiar with the SI article. You’ve seen Tressel’s retirement and the withdrawal of OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

You know about Pryor’s cars and his ‘friend’s’ story about making twenty to forty-thousand dollars from signed merchandise. You’ve seen pundits and talking heads dissect every angle. You’ve read hundreds of articles, watched countless news clips and perused every blog written by professionals, amateurs, and novice crack-pots. And now, with the King Pariah himself (Maurice Clarett) weighing in on the issue, perhaps we’ve reached the height of overexposure.

Of course, the blame is pointed in every direction possible. It’s the players fault for not following the regulations. Arrogant, self-serving prima donnas like Terrelle Pryor just live to serve themselves. It’s the coaches’ fault. Tressel knew, or had reason to be suspicious, and instead of taking disciplinary action, he looked the other way and tried to cover it up.

And where were the assistant coaches? You know, the one’s who work with these kids EVERY SINGLE DAY!? It’s the administration’s fault. How could Gene Smith and the compliance office not know of this? How could they fail to contain this? Perhaps it’s the media’s fault. They wanted to find these violations, so they dug deeply enough to do so.

If they didn’t have a vendetta against Ohio State, they’d go check out other schools, like Auburn and that one up north, and we could guarantee that they’d find the same problems at every school. Yeah, YEAH, they’d find it everywhere, because EVERYONE is doing it.

Of course, no one really cares who the blame lies with because, ultimately, the guilty parties won’t be the ones to suffer. Tressel made his millions as a coach and will live comfortably in retirement. Pryor will probably get hired on to an NFL team in some capacity and will make a minimum of six figures for the next few years. Gene Smith’s job is supposedly safe and sound for now. And the evil dogs in the media will probably win awards and fame for their wonderfully researched pieces.

No, the important question is: Who will clean up this mess? Of course, that leaves only two parties: the future players and the fans. The people who go to every game, rain or snow. The ones who live and die with the team. The ones who are paying for the tickets and watching the game casts that make Ohio State football such a lucrative event. They’re the ones who will suffer right?

No, Buckeye fans, because behind all of this, this whole thing is our fault.

 

We Created This Mess

Before you get too angry, just hear me out. Take a little trip with me back to 2008. It wasn’t that long ago, just three and a half short years. If you remember, at the time, there was a young, 18-year-old quarterback living in Jeannette, PA. If you think hard enough, you can remember his recruitment.You can remember all the press coverage, and all of the debates. “Where will he go? Where should he go? Where will he develop the best? Where will he get the most experience and exposure?”

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Following the best game of his career, Pryor was a Buckeye Hero.

The questions went around and around. At the center of it, was this young, impressionable 18 year old. He was the king. Everyone hung on his every thought and word. And when he finally made his last minute decision, Buckeye fans, remember how you rejoiced.

Take a trip with me, back to just shy of three years ago. Remember when that kid, 19 years old, was a freshman here in Columbus? Remember how everyone was hooting and hollering that Tressel should pull out senior quarterback Todd Boeckman and put the frosh in? Remember how much we cried out for him, how much we cheered for him? We had never even watched the kid play a college down and he was already an instant celebrity.

Remember, just shy of that kid’s sophomore year, when he was a young, immature 20-year-old and was already being touted as a Heisman candidate? Remember when he went through a couple of rough games but won fame by beating Oregon in the Rose Bowl? And remember how for the entire summer, every college football sportscaster couldn’t get enough of talking about how great this young man was going to be?

Remember, just shy of his junior year, when the Buckeye offense was supposed to be so potent that we earned the No. 2 preseason ranking? Much of that was on this kid’s young arm, wasn’t it? And remember, just a few months later, how we were talking about his indiscretion and selfish antics?

That kid, of course, was Terrelle Pryor.

And in the last few weeks and months, he has been villainized and demonized for his "selfish," "stupid," and "arrogant" behavior. Yet, my question is, who put him there? The world, at least Terrelle’s world, revolved around him. And it was you and I who put him there. It was you and I who made this kid believe that he was something more than just a kid. We were the ones who hyped him up. We were the ones who placed him on that pedestal.

And what did you expect him to do? He’s a kid, not even twenty-two years of age yet. Did you actually expect him to be wiser and more cautious than every other 19 and 20-year-old kid? Did you really expect him to be surrounded by all that fame, all that fortune, all that power and attention and not act like an idiot?

Don’t mistake what I’m saying. Terrelle Pryor’s actions were his own, and he is still liable for them. But think for a moment about what you, or I, or any other 18-year-old would do in that situation. I assume the majority of us would do the exact same thing. Kids are ignorant, and kids with a lot of fame and attention almost never know how to handle it. We gave Terrelle that power, and while he was the one who ultimately abused it, some of the blame must still lie with us.

How could we possibly expect him to act any different?

 

It Was Our Money Who Paid Him

Perhaps you’re not persuaded yet. Perhaps you still want to place all of the blame on his shoulders and refuse to see that he’s the exact monster we helped to create. Then let me ask you this? If Pryor’s and his teammate’s crimes were trading autographs and memorabilia for money, tattoos, and cars, where were they getting the latter from?

Who were the people paying him for the memorabilia? What about the tattoos? Who sold/lent them the cars? They were fans. Fans just like you and I. It was a fan like Edward Rife that accepted rings and trophies for illegal tattoos. It was a fan who was accused of giving free and reduced cars to various players. It was a fan who Pryor’s "friend" claimed gave him $40,000 for signed helmets and jerseys.

They were fans.

And they should have known better. Perhaps we could excuse Pryor’s behavior. Perhaps we could chalk it up to the stupid, careless decision that a kid with too much time, too much popularity and too much greed will make. Perhaps we can attribute it to a childish belief that no matter the consequences, he’d never get caught.

But the fans? They were adults. They knew what they were doing was wrong. They knew what would happen if they got caught. They knew that this could destroy their beloved team’s future. They knew, and yet, they didn’t care. They didn’t care because they were so wrapped up and in awe of a 20-year-old kid who could run quickly and pass with mediocrity that they didn’t think about it.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
After all of the comparisons made between this situation and the one Mr. Bush created something is quickly forgotten: Reggie was an isolated incident. Ohio State's woes seem to be much more systematic. If the NCAA was so harsh on the transgressions of one man, why should they be lax on Ohio State's wildfire?

But in the end, it was the actions of fans that led us here. Because tied up in all of these benefits are the hands of the fans who give them out. Behind every "$100 dollar shake" is the hand of a booster. Behind every "sign this" and "get some cash" is some fan who really wants a T.P. signed helmet. Behind every loaned or discounted car was some fan who wanted to be part of the ‘in-crowd’ and maybe get some free tickets.

In the end, it was the fans who paid Pryor, and it was the fans who brought this upon themselves.

 

What This Means for the Future

In the end, there aren’t any innocent parties. On August 10th, the NCAA will hold a hearing to decide Ohio State’s penalties. The dreaded lack of institutional control tag looms above that hearing. Honestly, the NCAA can’t afford to not use it. The accusations mount daily. Whether they are true or not, there’s enough smoke for the NCAA to believe that this program is out of control.

And maybe it is.

Regardless, if the NCAA doesn’t deliver the maximum penalty, then the outcry from the rest of the nation will be so strong that it will make the BCS/Playoff debate look like a children’s thumb war. Of course, this won’t affect Tressel or Pryor. Both will move on with their lives. The people who it will hurt will be the kids like Braxton Miller. He’ll be the one to pay for his predecessors sins.

It’d be laughable if it weren’t so saddening.

And perhaps that’s the first lesson; that despite all of these accusations, hearing and punishments, the NCAA is nothing more than a joke. It’s supposed to be college sports governing body, but it’s so rife with corruption and inefficiency that it encourages the very behavior it attempts to curb. Why not accept benefits and money if you’ll never have to atone for your crimes?

Perhaps, as the money paying consumer, it’s time we stand up and demand action. Perhaps it’s time to demand reform in the NCAA, better investigating, and tighter sanctioning. Perhaps it’s time to stop punishing kids who haven’t done anything for the violations of previous delinquents. Perhaps it’s time to demand that the NCAA shape itself up and get it’s act together.

Of course, inherent in that is the second lesson to take from all of this. Perhaps these sanctions aren't for the players and the university. Perhaps they're for us too. Perhaps this punishment is exactly what we need to return to sanity. We, the fans of college sports, need to shape up too. We need to stop treating these kids like they’re the right hand of God and realize that they’re just kids. We need to realize that if we let them, they’ll do stupid things. And we need to stop helping them!

Stop giving them money. Stop lending them cars. Stop the wink-wink, nudge-nudge deals that have become so commonplace. Stop doing it because you WILL be caught and you WILL be put in this position again. We need to stop making their egos so enormously big that no tattoo or car will satisfy them. We need to stop idolizing them and putting them atop pedestals.

We have a chance. We can change the way things are done. But first, we need to realize that this game isn’t life or death. A win doesn’t change much more in our daily lives than a loss does. We need to realize it’s entertainment. And we need to realize, beyond all the hype, all the fame, beyond all the highlights and stunning plays, behind the uniform and the helmet, these players are just kids.

And kids will be kids. So we need to be the responsible adults.

 

Sincerely, Your Brother Buckeye,

 

Kyle

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