College football has a strong gravitational field as a topic of discussion and, yes, often obsession.
Once one is invested in a college team, everything around the sport becomes about that team and its title chances. When a star running back is arrested for driving under the influence or for possession of marijuana, fans don’t worry about the effect it will have on his life or criminal record. They wonder if that means he won’t play on Saturday.
This, for instance, is how Florida State could let an accused rapist, and known thief, continue to play quarterback and brush all accusations under the rug. After all, it worked: He led them to a championship, no matter what tarnish it might add to the school name along the way.
Now there’s rumblings of bad behavior at Ohio State University, where Coach Urban Meyer has been suspended as everyone tries to find out if he did or did not know about his former assistant coach’s domestic abuse of his wife.
To my shame, I must admit my first feelings were mildly triumphant, a gleeful indulgence of schadenfreude, a German term for the enjoyment of other’s misfortune. I hold strong negative feelings for both OSU and Meyer, so seeing them in a tailspin of bad press and possible firings was enjoyable.
I can’t say it was my finest moment.
Forgotten in all the analysis and discussion of what this means for Ohio State’s football season, after all, is the fact that a man was abusing his wife and dozens of people said nothing, did nothing, to stop it. Even now we’re minimizing or forgetting it in favor of thoughts about a game.
The human cost of football is already well-known in the trend of concussions and other career-ending injuries, but the sport can damage people off the field as well, all too often with no acknowledgments from the game’s ardent fans.
I love football as much as the next Southerner — that is, with the white-hot heat of a thousand suns — but we should not let our love of the game eclipse the human cost of bad decisions made by coaches and players. We must not let that taint poison the sport with our willing cooperation.