Ryan Mallett (Matthew Stockman/Getty)
College athletes and students in general are in a party time of life, but new media is putting an intense spotlight on old issues. In some instances, the scrutiny is deserved. Other times, it can be over the top for no crime at all.
It’s official. We are in a Facebook/TMZ world that there may well be no getting out of with the availability of social media, webcams, video production as close as your own phone and the immediacy of spreading the news with lightning speed.
Saturday at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, we got our first intense view of this media “New World Order.” Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett are two of the top quarterback candidates in this year’s draft. Yet, both of them spent significant portions of their media access to address questions that have nothing to do with football.
Newton, who has been under the media microscope for the last several months, had to clarify a comment he made about wanting to be “an entertainer” and “an icon.” It was a flippant comment made by a kid who is going to turn 22 in May. In his case, the question should be, “Yeah, so?” not a sanctimonious rant by media “entertainers” and/or “icons” to pass judgment that he is not focused on being a football player, but more interested in being a rock star.
Guess what? Newton should have nothing to apologize for. If you’re a star in the NFL, you are an entertainer. People drop hundreds of dollars to watch you perform for three hours. There are thousands of people employed to discuss what you do for a living. There is little difference between Peyton Manning and Bruce Springsteen. They do the same thing – entertain packed houses wherever they perform. If he doesn’t succeed, so be it. Brett Favre was an entertainer and an icon. JaMarcus Russell was neither. It’s up to Newton, his commitment to being as good as he can be and the team he ends up with that will determine if he will be an icon. Manning put in the time and the success of his teams are obvious. Russell was a “me-first” guy who flamed out. Newton shouldn’t be vilified for setting the bar high. If he succeeds, he will be both an entertainer and an icon. Period.
Mallett is a different story. He has been called to task by what everyone reporting on it claims are rumors that he not only has taken drugs in college (no!) but might have an addiction to the party lifestyle. If it is true, he won’t be the first and he won’t be the last college football player to do things he wouldn’t put on his résumé. The timing of the accusations, the week of the NFL Scouting Combine, seems interesting. However, his response was hard to justify.
If there was no basis to the accusations, Mallett should have been advised to come out aggressive – denying the charges immediately and owning the situation before he gets his 15 minutes with NFL teams. Instead, he deflected the questions, which only gives rise to more speculation. In the Facebook/TMZ world we live in now, you can bet that media members are going to be provided with information – some will pay for it, others won’t – that will portray a bad side of Mallett that he likely doesn’t deserve, but will surely have to answer to.
Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps made as much news showing he knows how to work a bong as he did winning gold medals. It wasn’t that he was all that much different than other athletes, he was just the first Olympic star in the Facebook/TMZ era. Fortunately for Phelps, the memory of such events tends to bleed into history and be replaced by the next big thing in tabloid reporting. Right now, people like Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson are thanking Charlie Sheen for putting himself front and center in the same area of entertainment scrutiny.
Whether there is any truth to the rumors about Mallett’s alleged drug usage has yet to be determined, but his hesitancy to address the issue will only result in the media digging deeper. The times, they are a’ changin’ and the athletes of today will be subject to being exposed by those who have been at the same parties with them.
We may as well as get used to it. For the longest time, school authorities, cops and inner circle friends kept their mouths shut about transgressions of NFL stars. Now any drunken frat boy who got beat up at a party or a jilted ex-girlfriend has the ability to dig up derogatory information on a draft prospect and get it out into the mainstream media.
It’s always humorous when adults in the media pass judgment on the young. As a parent, I’m just as guilty – “do as I say, not as I did” has become my mantra. I wouldn’t want to be held accountable for everything I did in my college years, but fortunately for me, there wasn’t Facebook. If someone took a picture of me doing something wrong, they had to point a camera at me and wait for the flash to get ready. Now anyone with a phone can do the job of a cinematographer. I dare say, those brethren in my own profession should be among the last to have such self-righteous disdain.
As a segment of the population, I can say that media members as a group likely enjoyed the “college experience” as much as any segment of the student population. The difference? There wasn’t somebody with worldwide video capability chuckling as he had one of his eyebrows shaved off.
It’s a new era we live in and, unfortunately for college athletes, that era doesn’t lend itself to burying bad information. Anyone with an axe to grind can find a forum to spew their disdain. It’s an era that will lead to NFL teams making more informed decisions – one can only imagine that the Vikings wouldn’t have drafted Dimitrius Underwood if they had read his Facebook page. But, it’s an era where millions of dollars can be lost for one stupid moment caught on film.
Welcome to the new age of NFL draft. Dr. Z, you’ve been replaced by TMZ.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.