Watching football makes me wonder if anybody remembers what it was like to be twentysomething.
Look, I get that this is what starting quarterbacks sign up for when they take their jobs. If you can’t deal with a hostile crowd, even one in your own city, then you probably aren’t long for the NFL. I also get that these guys, particularly the ones that are fortunate enough to be drafted in the position in which Young was drafted, get paid a LOT of money for exactly this reason. So I’m not asking that we change or ignore the system or the bargain that players make with their teams and their fans when they sign on to join the league. Hell, I think it’s what makes the NFL work; it helps fuel the game to game tension that goes unmatched by other sports where survival is more easily attained.
What I am asking, however, is that those of us who are so ready to uphold this reality also accept the reality that none of the above changes the fact that Vince Young is 25 years old. Hell, even if someone sat and explained the dire bargain of being an NFL starting quarterback to him, he probably wouldn’t have understood it when he took the job (being 22 and having all that money flashed in front of you will murky the logical waters). Even if someone had, that understanding wouldn’t all of a sudden take away his humanity. He’d still be a person, albeit one that had agreed to shoulder a much heavier burden than the rest of us, but still a complex makeup of emotions and motivations and desires. He wants to be good; he wants to be liked; he wants to feel like he’s accomplishing something with his life. When I was two years out of college, I used to get depressed when rooms of 15-20 people didn’t laugh at my jokes. Now, because someone my age is a little depressed when tens of thousands of people express anger at his efforts and cheer for his downfall, he’s being tagged for the narrative of failure? That’s depressing to ME, and I don’t know VY personally at all.
Nobody is saying that the fans have to love the guy (although seriously, Titans fans, in just over two years he’s been 18-11 as a starter and has been to a Pro Bowl, and you’d rather have Kerry Collins in charge?). Still, it’s alarming that we’re all so ready to turn on a player who has given us the basic requirements asked of him (win games) simply because he does it in an unconventional manner (and before you say that he needs his team to bail him own, ask yourself how many winning QBs don’t) and because he’s a bit “off”. And what exactly makes him “off”? Well, that’s the thing. VY committed the ultimate sin over the past two days when he showed us all that beneath the sport façade of professionalism there is a very personal life that can be hurt, and we can’t deal with that. We like our athletes to be monolithic, standing impervious to the outside (think Jordan or Brady), and when they fail to be invincible we toss them aside as less than what is required. But required for what? Is it that strange for a young adult to have issues with himself or with others? To be vindictive to people that claim he is obligated to serve their desires? To be despondent about struggling to achieve that which he’s been told he should have achieved by now? Grown men routinely buckle under those kinds of thoughts in situations with half the pressure, and we’re talking about a guy who isn’t three full years removed from college yet. So what if he’s moody or if he wondered one time whether or not he was doing what was best for his life. Who doesn’t wake up mornings to find themselves questioning the bulk of the choices they’ve made? If Young being vulnerable means that he can never be what he wants to be, then what does that say about any of us?
That’s what makes the real problem the team. I wrote a little bit ago that Jeff Fisher’s stubborn refusal to coddle VY by drafting receivers in a manner that didn’t suit his vision for the team would either make Young the dynamic weapon he should become or break his spirit. Now that it’s leaning more toward the latter, and the signs of mental wear and tear are showing, the fact that nobody is jumping in to help a young man in trouble is a shameless indictment of the cover-your-ass mentality that is beneath someone of Fisher’s tenure and a team of this character. Where is the offensive player that should be standing up to fans and saying that they believe in the guy who has led them to victory time and time again, and that fans should too, because as much as he owes them for their money, they owe him for the moments he’s already given them (that 2006 six game streak was the stuff of magic)? Where is Jeff Fisher jumping on the grenade and saying that everything was just a misunderstanding? Even if it’s not true, he should be there. Because that’s what coaches should sign up for when young men like VY sign up for the bargain described above. Coaches are there to guide and, when necessary, protect their players, not only because it’s good for the team (and this squad has invested WAY too much in VY to give up now), but because it’s good for the kid becoming a man. I guess what I’m trying to say is forget the “code” of athletes. Vince Young is a person. The fact that he showed himself as one publicly over the last couple of days shouldn’t leave him out in the cold.