Gods of the Arena: College Football Players and the Standards Surrounding Them

Chris AndersonCorrespondent IIIOctober 26, 2011

EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 2: Cornerback Cliff Harris #13  and rover Eddie Pleasant #11 of the Oregon Ducks lead the team onto the field for the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Autzen Stadium on October 2, 2010 in Eugene, Oregon. Oregon won the game 52-31. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

In today's college sports world, college football players, more than any other type of athlete (not trying to demean any other sport), are the "gods" of their universities. They are given incentives and benefits, allowed access to both academic and athletic facilities that "normal" students are not allowed to use, and are worshiped by thousands of rabid fans waiting to see them perform on Saturdays. 

While there are many perks to being a college football player (and trust me, the list goes on and on), there is also a lingering feeling that these players and young men are supposed to be perfect. I mean, since they are the "gods" of the campus, shouldn't they make any mistakes? Should these players be perfect in every single way, shape and form? 

This is one of the biggest problems facing college football: athletes in are held to such higher standards than the rest of their fellow student body that they cannot afford to make the mistakes that other students may make. This is an absolute disservice to the American belief of "equality for all".

Often as I turn on the TV, surf the Internet or pick up a newspaper and read the headline, "College Football Player X in Trouble: Suspension Looming?" I immediately think to myself, "Crap, not again". And not because I am worried about the severity of the act committed. I am thinking to myself and almost yelling at the media because of how they blow these incidents way out of proportion, labeling a young man to be someone that he is probably not. Though there are some cases where the severity of a crime does deserve the publicity it receives (mostly in cases that involve violence that results in felony charges), I see no reason to broadcast every single detail about these players' lives.

I will use the example of a typical college student. If you are, have been, or will be a college student, you know that college is the strangest, most fun, stressful, developmental, and confusing conglomeration of events that will ever take place in your life (sorry puberty, college definitely wins in this one). You are bound to make a mistake or two. While there are mistakes that definitely deserve to be punished, for the most part, college students are "allowed" a certain amount of mistakes without these hampering their overall life. In fact, most Mondays in my campus paper is a list of how many crimes were committed in the past weekend; the numbers are generally extraordinary. Ranging from drinking in public to being caught with illegal substances, college students make mistakes too. Yet, for the most part, their future is unaffected by these mistakes as they are given the opportunity and grace period to grow into better people.

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 15:  Tyrann Mathieu #7 of the LSU Tigers against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium on October 15, 2011 in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images


In a sense (and don't take this as a card to go around and commit random criminal acts, because everybody should strive to be an ideal citizen who plays by the rules), the mistakes that most young men and women make in college are given a clemency, if you will. These mistakes, in time, seem to vanish from their past as they surge forward with the rest of their lives, unaffected and uninhibited by their past transgressions. Yet, I see college football players being "branded" as a certain type of person just because of a single mistake they had made.

Let's take Cliff Harris of the University of Oregon Ducks. When he is on the field, Cliff Harris is one of the most electric and enthusiastic players who has a bright future in football. Yet, the perception of Cliff has been one of disgust and disappointment because of some mistakes he made. In this past year, Cliff was caught speeding and driving with a suspended license while also not wearing a seat belt. He is now suspended from the University of Oregon football team and is being chastised by both the community as well as fellow students, calling him an immoral human being and a kid who will always mess up.

Situations like this make me angry and make me realize how ridiculous the standards are for these young men in comparison with the rest of the student body. If it were any other student, they would most likely not be labeled as such a miscreant that Cliff has been called. Sure, he has made some not-so-wise decisions in the past few months, but can you please give the kid a break and not brand him for the rest of his life? You put these kids on the highest of highs by adoring and praising them throughout the entire year, for crying out loud. Are they supposed to not be affected by the ego that you are pumping constantly into their veins? Do you really think that making these young men (sometimes even as young as 18 years old) "gods" is really helping their situation?


Sure, they made a mistake and need to be reprimanded, but the severity of the punishment for these young men is in no respect equal to that of their fellow students. Not only do they have to either pay fines or face the possibility of legal action, college football players also have to have the entire nation judge them, thus creating a stigma that would stick with them the rest of their lives. This is not healthy for anybody in any kind of situation. Judging and evaluating a player because of one single action is in no way fair to him or anybody else on the team. If it happened to a regular college student, the mistake would go unnoticed by the media and the community. It would be just another stupid college mistake that they would have to learn from. However, since these college football players are "gods," they are not allowed to be a regular college student in the eyes of many, and this hampers the development of them not only as football players but also as individuals in society.

Does anybody really believe that Tyrann Mathieu or Jordan Jefferson are really bad people and deserve to be stigmatized for the rest of their lives because of some mistakes they made in college? Sure, Mathieu smoked some pot, but who hasn't! I mean, come on man, even our former President admitted to doing harder stuff than that, and look where he was able to elevate himself to in his life. So, Jordan Jefferson had a little bit to drink and a punch was thrown at a bar, this really shouldn't be the big deal that it got blown up into. Bar fights happen all the time. These incidents don't make these individuals bad people by any means. They just made a mistake that they owned up to and will look go grow from. 

One or two mistakes that college football players should not result in them being thrown under the bus as miscreants and ne'er-do-wells. While everybody who attends a university should try their best to represent their college in every way possible, everybody makes mistakes; to chastise college football players and degrade their status as human beings for the rest of their lives is simply wrong, and though I know I definitely cannot change people's opinions completely, I hope that this article provides some insight into how I feel about the way college football athletes are perceived and the double standard applied to them..

  Everybody makes mistakes. It is how we learn and move on from them that will truly define who we are. Let's allow these college football players to do the same.