It wasn’t very long ago that a football game was one of the most unifying events in our country. Whether it was small one-stoplight town on a Friday night, or in the heart of a college campus on a Saturday afternoon, or in the midst of the big city lights on a Sunday, football was king.
Earlier this week on ESPN’s “Get Up”, Michelle Beadle very publicly announced that she has quit watching football altogether. She did this in the wake of Ohio State suspending Urban Meyer three games for mishandling the domestic violence allegations made against his former assistant Zach Smith.
Does Michelle Beadle have a right to quit watching football? Of course she does. In her words, the sport “has set itself up to be in a position where it shows itself…to not really care about women…they don’t really care about people of color, either…”
If that’s the way she feels, so be it. Never mind the fact that what took place at Ohio State, or Baylor, or Florida State with Jameis Winston, have no bearing on what takes place at the other 120+ FBS programs who play each week.
Are those the only cases where troubling issues, such as domestic violence, are being covered up in the name of winning games? Almost certainly not. But to group every single coach, administrator, staff member, and player into one bucket because of the mistakes Urban Meyer made isn’t just unfair. It’s grandstanding.
Michelle Beadle is paid millions of dollars to host a television show each morning (well, until she was booted from the show on Friday). Where do those millions of dollars come from? Well, none other than the NFL, actually. ESPN makes billions of dollars off the back of the NFL year-round. Before ESPN announced Beadle was leaving the show, it was reported that they were prepared to give “Get Up” a chance to succeed during football season, because these are the months when the network rates the highest. Football is the lifeblood of ESPN, and while network president Jimmy Pitaro’s top priority is to mend the relationship with the NFL, I can’t imagine this went over very well.
Do I expect her to spend 12+ hours a day every weekend looking for every possible way to break down the coverages, blitzes, runs and throws she sees? Of course not. Her job is to be an entertainer, and to provide thought-provoking opinions for three hours a day about – you guessed it – college football and the NFL.
In the end Beadle got what she wanted. She’s off of a show that was never a great fit for her from the moment it started. She’s succeeded in her career and will succeed again as a focal point of ESPN’s NBA coverage. As she put it, that’s what she’s here for anyway.
The NFL needs to make changes to how it addresses domestic violence. This isn’t the space to elaborate on that. It needs to show significantly more empathy for the societal issues its players feel so strongly about. That league has its own problems.
However, to draw the line between the NFL and college football in this sense is simply wrong.
For example: College football provides an opportunity for minorities, specifically African-Americans, which many of them would not be able to afford on their own.
Over 78 percent of senior football players at FBS schools graduated in 2017. Over 73 percent of African-American football players received a degree. Compare this to 53 percent in 2002. The rate of African-Americans who graduate was 13 percentage points higher among football players than non-athletes at FBS schools last year.
As for all that free time Michelle Beadle has on Saturdays, I think of the moments that perhaps she ignored.
When I think of college football, I think of Byron Leftwich being carried down the field by his teammates because he can’t let his team go on without him. Or the 70 thousand fans in Kinnick stadium turning around to wave in unison at a children’s hospital, spreading hope to those kids and so many more who are lucky enough to witness such a spectacle through their television. Or the Virginia Tech Hokies bursting through the Lane Stadium tunnel mere months after one of the most tragic days in modern American history in 2007 to, as Mike Tirico put it “galvanize a community… in probably this football program’s finest hour.”
College football can be a force for good. Don’t let Urban Meyer ruin that for you.
Yes, football needs to change. The players deserve to be paid. The sport must become safer. There are people all over the country trying to make that happen. Larry Fedora might have grabbed the headlines when he said the sport is “under attack,” but it’s not. The game has never been safer, and will continue to be safer. If you’re not comfortable with that, fair enough. But don’t belittle the value football brings to the players, the coaches, and the fans who love the sport so dearly.
Every Saturday, Tens of thousands of fans from every tax bracket clog up two-lane highways as they caravan into small college towns all over America. They fire up their grills, pop open a beer or twelve, and forget about everything else that’s bringing them down. For one day, it’s a necessary escape.
That sale you couldn’t close on Wednesday? Who cares? Can we slow down that pass rush on the other side today?
Those bills hanging over your head next week? They can wait. Let’s see if our star QB can torment another poor defense’s soul tonight.
Only in college football can you feel the palpable tension filling the air moments before your team takes the field. The team might be suited up in a helmet and shoulder pads, but in those fleeting moments, there’s not a soul in the crowd that’s not ready to plow through a steel wall.
It’s about the message board lunatics who want to fire the coach after every incompletion. Or the crazy callers that light up Paul Finebaum’s phone line for four hours a day in between weekends. Oh, and would anyone’s Tuesday be complete without a little MAC-tion in their lives?
It’s about tuning into to College Gameday at 11:56 (if you somehow weren’t watching already) to see which goofy mascot head Ol’ Lee Corso slips on this week.
I was born in a college town, and I can’t imagine spending my Saturdays any other way than in the stadium, or at a bar, or in my living room soaking in the passion and glory of my favorite sport on earth. I bet if you’re reading this now, you surely agree.
When you think of college football, don’t think of Urban Meyer. He doesn’t represent the sport, as much as he might like to think he does. Michelle Beadle can use her platform to stand up for whatever she believes in. She might not need college football, but college football sure as hell doesn’t need her.