Saturday, December 10, 2011

Austin Etherington

"The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. The Heisman Trophy Trust ensures the continuation and integrity of this award." This mission statement was taken from the official Heisman Trophy website. Today was the day when one of five finalists - Montee Ball (Wisconsin), Robert Griffin Junior III (Baylor), Andrew Luck (Stanford), Tyrann Mathieu (LSU), and Trent Richardson Junior (Alabama) - would be awarded the trophy, joining a group of 75 other outstanding football players who exhibited the same qualities (this is the 77th award, but the 2005 winner, Reggie Bush, forfeited and returned his in 2010 due to an investigation revealing broken NCAA policies). Robert Griffin Junior III won, the first player from Baylor ever to do so, and congratulations to him. Today might have been a very ironic day for this award to be given, though, considering all of the other events that happened. While one player was honored for excellence, dignity, integrity, and perseverance, two college basketball teams showed everything but dignity and integrity on the court, while one scandal has the potential to ruin the reputation of a baseball player who most people believed to have all of the qualities of a Heisman winner. 

Most people outside the state of Ohio don't realize the passion beneath the Cincinnati-Xavier rivalry but two schools within 10 minutes of one another are bound to develop some animosity and two upsets pulled by Xavier over No. 1 Cincinnati in 1996 and 2000 and Cincinnati's most recent win by 20 points have added fuel to the fire for both sides. Today, tensions burst. With 9.4 seconds remaining, last years Atlantic 10 player of the year, Xavier's Tu Holloway, and Cincinnati's Ge'Lawn Guyn appeared to have a heated conversation in front of Cincinnati's bench, at which point Xavier freshman Dezmine Wells, apparently backing up his teammate, shoved Guyn. Then all hell broke loose. Both benches joined in the scuffle. Cincinnati's Yancy Gates punched Xavier's Kenny Frease in the jaw and after he fell to the ground it appears that Cheikh Mbodj stomps on his face. The fight began long before the 9 second mark, though. 

Leading up to today's game, Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick said in an interview that Xavier's Tu Holloway - the Atlantic 10 player of the year in 2011 - wouldn't start for Cincinnati. Trash talking began during the National Anthem. Xavier guard Mark Lyons made some comments to the Cincinnati players on his way to the locker room at halftime with a 9 point lead. And it didn't stop when the referees were forced to call the game with 9.4 seconds remaining, allowing Xavier to leave with a 76-53 victory. In the post game press conference, Holloway called himself and his teammates gangsters - not thugs, but tough guys (if anyone can provide me with the distinction between thugs and gangsters I would be very appreciative). He added, "You don't let people disrespect you. That's what I'm about. I don't regret anything that happened." Cincinnati's Coach Mick Cronin addressed the issue head on in his post game conference, calling it "embarrassing", saying that some players need to "grow up", and that he was "going to decide who is on this team going forward." Here's my question, though: with all the tension leading up to the game, how did this escalate to the point where Kenny Frease had to crawl out of a mob of basketball players clutching his bloody face to avoid being trampled? The signs were there; why didn't one of the coaches or assistants or even one of the officials say, "Cool it" during the 39:50.6 minutes prior to this? 

My question isn't really the point of all this, though. What matters is what comes next: suspensions and a lot of hard work at restoring the national respect that both these programs lost because a few dumb players lost their tempers and humiliated themselves, their schools, and their sport for a petty rivalry (because, again, who outside of Ohio really cares about the Cincinnati-Xavier game?). 

Which leads me to my second topic. This is breaking news, so I don't have a whole lot to go on at this point (and hopefully it'll all be false anyway so this paragraph will be completely irrelevant). Today Ryan Braun, the face of the Milwaukee Brewers franchise and the National League MVP tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and faces a 50-game suspension in 2012. A urine sample in October revealed elevated levels of testosterone and a later test revealed the testosterone to be synthetic. Braun plans to appeal the suspension, something that no suspended player has successfully overturned as of yet, claiming it to be B.S. And I hope it is. One of the best things about sports is the role models that it provides. Up until now, Ryan Braun has not only been a tremendously gifted athlete, but also a stand out person, a combination that seems to be much too rare amongst professional sports. For baseball in particular, Braun seemed like the start of the post-steroids generation, a fresh slate for the sport. I'd like to think, and I know I'm not the only one, that's it's possible to be an MVP without taking performance enhancing drugs, that people can accomplish great things on talent alone. It gives people hope. 

Someone recently asked me what the significance of sports was. Ironically, it was right after I wrote my previous blog, where I praised Tim Tebow as a person and a role model. I love sports, but I realize that it's not a matter of life-or-death. No football game is ever going to lead to a cancer cure, no war will be resolved by a basketball score. In the end, it's not the scores that matter, but what happens off the court and how people react to those situations. I think the importance of sports comes from days and dilemmas like the ones many athletes and coaches are facing today. Sports brings out the best in people - people like Tim Tebow and Robert Griffin III. It shows the value of hard work, how to win and lose with dignity and class, how to be a team player, and it brings people together as a community with a common goal and a common interest. It can also bring out the worst in some people and when that happens, people are challenged to find ways to handle situations, move on, and learn from them. But isn't that how everything in life is? In politics, for every Ronald Reagan there is a Rod Blagojevich. For every Jonas Salk in science we get a Josef Mengele. In sports, for every Tim Tebow there is a Ben Roethlisberger. Nothing's perfect. An ugly street brawl erupts on the court, an MVP tests positive for drugs, and five players are honored for excellence and integrity. Take the good and the bad, because you can learn something either way.

Today's blog features Indiana's Austin Etherington, a freshman forward for the men's basketball team. He did not play in Indiana's buzzer beating victory over No. 1 ranked Kentucky today, the 6th victory in team history over a No. 1 ranked team, the first since 2002, and the 8th straight victory for Tom Crean's undefeated Hoosiers. He did get 5 minutes and 2 rebounds in their victory over Stetson, though. 

I'm leaving now.
The Sports Nerd

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