Defending Devendorf: Why the Vilification of the Syracuse Star Has Gone Too Far

Jameson FlemingSenior Writer IMarch 24, 2009

NEW YORK - MARCH 14: Eric Devendorf #23 of the Syracuse Orange reacts between as Edgar Sosa #10 the Louisville Cardinals looks on during the championship game of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 14, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Has a college player been subject to more criticism and pure hatred in the last few years than Eric Devendorf?

The perfect storm of villainous characteristics have culminated to paint a putrid picture of displeasure and disapproval. Devendorf's status as "America's Top Villain" has drawn every media outlet's attention. If a Web site provides any kind of college basketball coverage, then they've provided an article about the "villain" Eric Devendorf is.

According to these articles' datelines, all of the writers for the following sites sent a journalist to Miami to cover the Miami Regional: Yahoo! Sports, ESPN, Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, and CBS. That's pretty much the mecca of online sports coverage. They sent someone to cover that regional and the Syracuse related story they all wrote about is the vilification of Eric Devendorf.

In their defense, they all essentially put a positive spin on the article, and none went the length of really criticizing Devendorf. But all their story lines did revolve around Devendorf being the player everyone loves to hate. A Syracuse sports blog, Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician, aptly puts the recent increase of anti-Devendorf talk by titling a post "Hating Eric Devendorf Officially Recognized as a Sport."

I guess we've gotten to the age of sports coverage where we don't want to read about the game or about the great, uplifting stories.

Apparently we want to know what kind of asshole Devendorf supposedly is instead of wanting to know about the incredible turnaround Syracuse has experience over the last month.

Apparently we want to know about how Devendorf's tattoos make him a punk instead of how his leadership on the court makes him the best teammate Syracuse legend Gerry McNamara says he ever played with (according to a Pat Forde article).

Yes, most athletes will defend a former teammate. But there is defending a teammate and saying something nice about the guy and then there is calling him the best teammate you've ever played with.

McNamara was always known as one of the most well-respected, fiery individuals known for his clutch performances.

Devendorf's opponents know his game and certainly respect what he does. Opponents know Devendorf has a penchant for hitting the big shot and letting the opponent know that he did it.

Ironically, Forde says McNamara is "the guy who shows up in Madison Square Garden to watch his old team in an argyle sweater."

The Syracuse blogosphere knows Devendorf is that same kind of guy after what Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician deemed Argyle-Gate. Devendorf never showed up in a flashy suit that you wonder how a college kid can afford. But he never stopped showing support for his teammates.

Last season, when Devendorf tore his ACL and sat out the last two-thirds of the season, he cheered for his teammates more than the Syracuse cheerleaders. He showed the kind of passion from the pine as he does after putting home a layup from the paint.

Devendorf doesn't get the credit he deserves. Several of the articles linked above begin to touch on the fact that Devendorf is a very proud father. Ryan Miller of The Orange Segment documented Devendorf's life after the birth of his now nine-month-old daughter, Madelyn.

Nobody mentions the fact that Devendorf is a good student. The senior (in terms of academics) was named a "Scholar Athlete of the Week" last year. Rarely does a Syracuse scholarship basketball player receive that award, but Devendorf attained the level of academics needed to garner the recognition.

Devendorf, after all, is just an amateur athlete. He's just a student. He's just a father.

The amount of hate directed to one man who is just an amateur athlete, a student, and a father is incredible, unjust, and unfair.

He's targeted because of his fire on the court. "E," as his teammates call him, usually directs most of his passion at his teammates and fans. Sometimes he'll jaw at an opposing player (see Jeremy Hazell and Louisville's guards), but anyone who watches this team knows his emotion is usually headed for his teammates, not the opponents.

Then there's the jumping on the scorer's table after he hit what almost was the buzzer-beater three. Some accounts have him screaming "f-bombs" when he jumped onto the scorer's table, which is a bit excessive and the wrong word choice. But most people who criticize him for that action don't make any mention of what he says, just the action of jumping on the scorer's table.

How often do players stand on the scorer's table in celebration? The answer is all the time. It will probably happen in this NCAA Tournament at some point. Two years ago on Syracuse's senior day, Terrence Roberts and Darryl Watkins stood proudly on the scorer's table after beating a ranked Georgetown team.

Nobody criticized them.

People don't realize Devendorf thought he had hit the biggest, most important shot of his entire career in the world's greatest arena in the nation's top conference tournament. If a player isn't allowed to go nuts over that, what is he allowed to go nuts over?

Then there's the off-the-court incident. Devendorf did get into altercation with a woman. But the story got way out of hand. Even the women's lawyer later said that the police got the story wrong and that Devendorf never hit the woman.

Yet, nonetheless, everyone calls him a "women beater." Georgetown's student section even went as far as singing "Hey Devo, won't you hit my girl?" instead of "Hey baby, won't you be my girl?"

He missed one of the biggest games of his collegiate career up to that point (at Memphis) to do the time for his crime. The kid spent his Christmas break at a kitchen for the needy so he could get back on the court ASAP.

He's done some wrongs off the court in the past that can't go unmentioned, but those wrongdoings shouldn't make him the country's "most hated player."

Finally, there is one last point that supersedes Devendorf's situation, and that's the issue of race.

Devendorf gets singled out the most because he is white. It is as simple as that. A writer for Slate began labeling players as "annoying white guys." Devendorf made his list as a freshman three years ago, predicting he would become America's Most Annoying White Guy someday. 

To single a player out as annoying not only because of his style of play, but his skin color is as racist it comes in my book. Levance Fields does everything an "annoying white guy" does, but he's not white. I've never seen him called annoying and certainly never seen him labeled "an annoying black guy." If I did, I'd know that writer probably would be joining many Americans in the unemployed line.

Devendorf also take a lot of heat for his tattoos. According to many, they automatically make him a punk. Most don't realize the majority of those tattoos are dedicated to loved ones. Across Devendorf's neck, he has the birth date and name of his only daughter. Across his arm, he's got multiple crosses.

But those tattoos make him a punk especially because they are black on white and stand out on his skin. It's not like Devendorf has a spider web tattooed up his neck or labels himself as the "Chosen 1," like LeBron James does.

Louisville's Terrence Williams is covered in tattoos as well, but the Cardinals' forward is "an excellent personality." I've never seen Williams labeled a punk. In fact, if you google "Eric Devendorf + punk" the first link says that will yield over 1,000 related links. For Williams, you get about two vague references to him being a punk.

But Devendorf has the tattoos like Williams. Devendorf plays with fire like Williams (who shows lots of emotion sometimes directed at his teammates, sometimes at his opponents). But one is a punk, the other a great personality.

If Devendorf's actions make him a punk, then Williams must be a punk. If Williams' actions make him a great personality, then Devo can't be a punk. There's no both ways.

But Devendorf knows it doesn't go both ways. He knows the fans will hate him for things he didn't do. They'll hate him for the clutch shots he makes. They'll probably hate him if he clips his finger nails too short.

But for Devendorf, that hate inspires him to be a better basketball player, and, most importantly, prove to his haters that he's a better person and father.

So maybe all this hate isn't so bad after all?


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.