Auburn defensive back Carlton Davis is the latest quitter to reveal himself to his teammates and the rest of the sports world.
Davis follows in the footsteps of some great players, including LSU running back Leonard Fournette and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey. Those two tremendous players set the standard for how to be a bad teammate by skipping the bowl game of their final college seasons for the sole reason that they believed there was nothing more they could personally gain from completing the season’s journey with their teammates.
Both Stanford and LSU went on to win their bowl games without their star players. Auburn wasn’t as fortunate in its “meaningless” bowl game against Central Florida.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn tried to alibi for Davis during the week leading up to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl by saying he was sick. It was a lie. Davis simply decided he didn’t care enough about his teammates, his school and its fans to compete one last time before heading off to a professional career.
The truth didn’t come out until players arrived in Mobile for the Reese’s Senior Bowl last week. While Central Florida players rightfully bragged about their win over Auburn (the only team to beat national champion Alabama), Auburn players were left to answer questions about what happened in the final chance of their careers to win a major bowl game.
“At first I got onto him,” Auburn senior safety Tray Matthews said. “I was like, ‘hey man, what’s up? I need you. You’ve been my dog the past three years and you’re going to leave me hanging like that?’ He explained to me a few things. That’s his decision; I’ve got to respect it. He’s a first-round talent, so you know, that’s on him.
“We’re built different. If it was me, I would’ve still played because it was my last game with my boys.”
Linebacker Tre Williams, back in town after a stellar career at St. Paul’s and Auburn, tried to not sound judgmental when addressing Davis’ decision to abandon his teammates.
“He’s an adult now,” Williams said. “I wish he had played just to have that extra body, but once again it’s his decision and I’m still going to root for him either way it goes. He was firm on his decision. I told him good luck on it and I’ll see him on the other side.”
Those who think it’s OK to walk out on your teammates, or think the decision is a gray area because of the risk of injury and the money at stake in the NFL, always focus on one word: meaningless. The Peach Bowl was meaningless. Auburn came within one win of reaching the college football playoff, but now that the Tigers had lost to Georgia, the bowl game was meaningless.
The argument is specious at best; a rip to the very fiber of sports at its worst.
First, all sporting events are meaningless. Even the winner of the National Championship game isn’t going to have an impact on who gets to eat or has access to health care.
Second, if the only “meaningful” games are the ones that have a direct impact on which teams win a championship, then we have to readjust our thinking on about 98 percent of all sporting events.
The last time the Troy-South Alabama game produced a national champion was … never. So why in the world would anybody think there was anything meaningful about playing in that game every year?
We should cancel the Dollar General Bowl in Mobile. That bowl has never produced a national champion.
Take it to the high school level. Baker High School has played 665 football games. Not one of them has been a state championship game, so therefore players should just decide from week to week whether they want to compete in any of those meaningless games.
Even championship teams can get in on the act. Both UMS-Wright and St. Paul’s won state championships this season, an incredible feat for two schools seven miles apart on Old Shell Road. But when they met in the final week of the regular season, their playoff fates had already been set. To heck with all the fans in the stands cheering wildly in this spirited rivalry, this was the true definition of a meaningless game. Why would a player risk injury and a college scholarship when the game had no bearing on the state championship?
The point is that championships are great. But what is truly meaningful about sports is something far greater. It’s committing to a team goal, being a dependable teammate, sacrificing for the greater good, being part of a team, a school and a family. You carry with you for the rest of your life the bond built through those combined efforts.
That is, unless the whole exercise of sports is meaningless.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.