Sunday, August 12, 2012
Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu will get another chance
Being cynical and being a journalist goes hand in hand. You can throw being jaded in there, too, while we're at it. The point is, after a while, there's very little that's shocking or surprising to the trained ear or eye.
And then there's what happened early Friday afternoon.
It was already going to be a busy sports weekend; the climax of the Olympics, pennant races heating up, NFL preseason openers and the PGA Championship were all vying for out attention, so the thunderbolt out of Baton Rouge, La., on Friday, when LSU announced Heisman Trophy candidate and star defensive back Tyrann Mathieu -- who you probably know as "Honey Badger" -- had been dismissed from the football team for what the school called "a violation of team and university rules."
It has been widely reported Mathieu's dismissal was due to his failing a drug test for the second time -- he was suspended one game last season, reportedly testing positive for synthetic marijuana.
In New York, college football is a tough sell; we're way too enmeshed with our nine professional sports teams to have much time or engagement left for what in other parts of the nation -- particularly the South -- is akin to religion. The Mathieu story was underplayed in the Metropolitan area as a result.
But this is a huge story, and not just because one of the best players in the country will no longer be playing for one of the best teams in the country. It's also about the marketing and future of a player perhaps recognized more for his persona than his abilities on the field.
If you want a catchy nickname, it helps to have one associated with what can be best described as an offbeat, unorthodox nature video spoof that went viral (google "youtube honey badger" if you somehow have yet to be exposed to it). One line from the video, "Honey badger don't care," then spun off on its own trajectory, and is now splashed on T-shirts, hats and other apparel.
It seemed a given that one day Mathieu would reap the benefits of such exposure -- but there's nothing to say that still can't happen; critics point to his small stature (5-foot-9, 175 pounds) being a barrier to a future in the NFL, but he was an explosive performer on special teams, and his ability to run back punts could make him, say, the next Devin Hester.
All of that is on hold now. NCAA rules state a player dismissed from an FBS program must sit out a year before transferring and playing for another FBS team. But Mathieu could transfer to an FBC (Division I-AA) school and play immediately, which is why Mathieu has already visited McNeese State, located in Lake Charles, La., about 200 miles from New Orleans.
Such a move would remove Mathieu from the national consciousness and big-program media coverage for the moment, but many all-time NFL greats have come from small schools, including Walter Payton (Jackson State), Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State) Steve McNair (Alcorn State) and Phil Simms (Morehead State). And there are a host of current NFL players that have made the jump from unheralded programs, including Tony Romo (Eastern Illinois), Miles Austin (Monmouth), Jared Allen (Idaho State) and Pierre Garcon (Division III Mount Union).
At least one person thinks Mathieu's odds are still pretty good -- his now former coach at LSU, Les Miles.
"I think Tyrann has a unique strength," Miles told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "I really think this could be a redirect that will benefit him greatly. I think he can accomplish all the goals he set for himself. It's not going to be easy, but it's going to be doable."
And perhaps playing in a more understated and low-pressure environment would make Mathieu realize he has a second chance, a gift to make this right in the end. And there's nothing cynical or jaded about that.