Written by Matt Popkin
A few years ago, it was hard to miss the clip of Oklahoma State head football coach, Mike Gundy, screaming at the top of his lungs at a press conference, "Come after me! I'm a man! I'm 40!" as it was soon on loop on the ESPN family of networks and parodied across the Internet.
But lost in the spectacle created by Gundy was what caused it. A reporter had written a story critical of the recently benched quarterback, Bobby Reid, painting him as a momma's boy who was too scared to play.
Here at Vanderbilt, it's not uncommon to hear such comments. Certain graduating quarterbacks and seven-foot tall Australians have taken an unfair amount of grief on campus for being "soft" as injuries and sickness made it hard for them to perform. But I'll be damned if I know two kids at this school who would handle the pressure of being the face of a program any better.
I'd love to see those who rag on these athletes stand up to that type of scrutiny. I know I wouldn't last more than five minutes. If you want to use the flawed idea that athletes are just in school for sports as an excuse to personally criticize them then fine, the rest of us students are just here for school. So every time you blow a Spanish pop quiz or save a paper for the last minute and mail it in, think of that as dropping a conference game because you went 1-8 from the field and pulled down only three boards.
And if you want, I'll be in your face screaming, my face turning red just like Coach Gundy's. Too bad then no one would hear a word I was saying, just like no one heard the rest of the coach's speech.
"Here's all that (Bobby Reid) did. He goes to class. He's respectful to the media. He's respectful to the public. And he's a good kid, and he's not a professional athlete, and he doesn't deserve to be kicked when he's down.
"If you want to go at an athlete, one of my athletes, you go after one that doesn't do the right things. You don't downgrade him because he does everything right and may not play as well on Saturday."
But no sports fan has memorized those two paragraphs like they will the recruit rankings for the next crop of 18-year-old high school seniors. Those rankings include hyped Vanderbilt commit John Jenkins, touted as perhaps the best shooting guard in the country, who somehow in the next year, at an age when most kids have trouble merely functioning on their own, will have the world put on his shoulders.
Know the name Lenny Cooke? He was rated the second best small forward in the nation out of high school in 2002, right behind future All-Everything and gold medal winner, Carmelo Anthony, and six spots ahead of future NBA All-Star, Brandon Roy.
Know what Lenny Cooke does now? He works for a food company in Virginia as an order selector. He never even went to college.
But no one remembers that or the plain fact that a kid is still a kid, no matter what uniform or ankle brace or sneakers you dress him in. I guess I'm trying to say I think it's about time we did