Have you ever actually known somebody who went on to play major-college football?
Maybe you met the quiet and respectful Julio Jones at the Foley restaurant where his hard-working mother was famous for serving up lemon pepper chicken. Maybe you met a jovial AJ McCarron when he was tagging along with his firefighting father in Mobile. Or maybe you were in a Prichard elementary school classroom when the always-positive Deshaun Davis came by to offer encouragement to the kids.
I use those three examples because many people on the Gulf Coast have had the pleasure of being around these athletes who went on to be big-time stars in college football — Jones and McCarron at Alabama, Davis at Auburn. There are hundreds of other athletes who you may have come into close contact with even before they were known to the general public.
After meeting one of these future star athletes did you ever boo them from the stands or yell at them through the TV because they dropped a pass or took a sack or missed a tackle?
Probably not. Because most people aren’t comfortable being mean to other people. None of us want to see ourselves as that person. If you’ve met Jones or McCarron or Davis, that’s just what they are — people.
But yelling at a player on our favorite team during tough times? That’s different. They aren’t people, they’re players.
Of course, that’s not true. The players are also real people, even if we know them only by their jersey numbers and statistics.
This message was hammered home last week when Auburn played poorly in a disappointing loss at Florida. The Auburn quarterback had a bad day and heard from many fans who called for him to be benched — many viciously so.
But Bo Nix is also a college freshmen. He’s similar in many ways to any other college freshmen you’ve known. And he has a mother who knows her kid as just that — a kid.
Krista Nix, the wife of former Auburn quarterback Pat Nix and the mother of Bo, took to Facebook after the Florida loss to post this message, which hit home with me.
If you allow yourself to be human first and fan second, it probably will with you, as well. She wrote:
“Sweet friends…Thank you for your kind words of support for Bo and for Auburn with once again more texts and messages than I can return. I did a great job of ‘unfriending’ six weeks ago when Bo was named the starter, so I am really just surrounded by love and encouragement. Like I said after Oregon, not all Saturdays will end like that one. Some inevitably will feel like this. I, like all Auburn fans, am disappointed in the score, the INTs [interceptions] and the missed opportunities. But I am in no way disappointed in my boy or my team! I am most proud of Bo’s postgame interview when he praised the defense but took total responsibility for the quarterback play. No one hurts more than Bo Nix tonight. But I’m certain that it’s games like these that will grow him to be a better quarterback and a better man.
“I’ve been a girlfriend, wife and mom in this business for over 25 years. I can promise you that I am not going to lose sleep over the fact that Bo is trending unfavorably on social media. As odd as it sounds, I’m glad he’s trending. Not many 19-year-olds get to live their dream. And although tonight might be considered a nightmare, he will wake up, continue to work to get better and keep loving Auburn. The Nixes are OK. Football is what we do … it doesn’t define who we are. Love my Tigers, especially my #10!”
Spoken like a true mom.
Look, I understand passionate fans. It’s why sports in general, and college football in particular, are so popular. There’s nothing wrong with having the opinion that backup Joey Gatewood should get a chance to play if Nix is struggling.
But that’s a far cry from some of the vicious criticism that comes every time a player struggles at Auburn, Alabama, Notre Dame or any big-time program.
I’m not suggesting anyone should lose that passion. But the next time you have a criticism of a player on the field, think of Jones at the restaurant in Foley, or McCarron at his dad’s side or Davis in that classroom.
It’s still OK to be animated in critiquing a performance. But just know that you’re talking about Krista Nix’s kid or the son of someone else who didn’t take the time to so eloquently voice what it’s like for the players and the family in the arena.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 17 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. Follow him on Twitter: @kennedy_randy.
This page is available to our subscribers. Join us right now to get the latest local news from local reporters for local readers.
The best deal is found by clicking here. Click here right now to find out more. Check it out.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here