Personal Principles and Pigskin Preferences Collide on Bowl Day

Based on football alone, 2015 is off to a great start.

Note that this is my second blog post in three years about football. But really, it’s about so much more than that — it’s about how there’s a very small line between my beliefs and who I cheer for in the NCAA.

Yesterday Missouri won the Citrus Bowl, turning the Minnesota Golden Gophers into roadkill after a back-and-forth first half that included more turnovers than an Pillsbury-sponsored church picnic. End score: 33-17. A fun time was had by all Tiger fans, especially those proud to call it their alma mater (like me!), those who attend (my sister) and those who pay its tuition (my parents).

It’s great to be excited about your own school winning, but here’s where I’m seeing my values and football allegiance merge dangerously. The rest of the day had the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl, and as if a Mizzou victory wasn’t a good enough kickoff for the year, the results of those two New Years Day traditions made it even more rewarding.

At the Sugar Bowl, University of Alabama and the highest-paid public college football coach lost to Ohio State. The kicker: they were winning for the first half until something kicked the Bucks’ third-string quarterback into winning mode. Call me a traitor to my conference, but after getting slaughtered mercilessly by Bama at the SEC championship (OK, not a huge surprise), it was good to see that the Crimson Tide would roll out with its elephant tail between its legs. But above that, I loved seeing “The $7 Million Man” lose — proof that you can make more in a year than doctors who save lives or research cures for diseases, but that doesn’t mean you’ll feel like you earned it at the end of the day. And that left me with a broad smile that stretched 1,800 miles…

…The distance from New Orleans to Pasadena, California, where Oregon University sprinted away with a victory against Florida State University, a team that I contend has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Its “Chiefs” mascot has somehow escaped debate even though it’s right up there with the former Illinois mascot Chief Illiniwek, who ceased to exist in 2007. Players are under investigation for rape and hit-and-run accidents, but they continue to play. And when a journalist from the New York freakin’ Times wrote a story about said hit-and-run, FSU fans marked it as spam on Twitter, making it impossible for other readers to access it through the social media outlet. As a person, that makes me roll my eyes at their immaturity. As a journalist, that pisses me off.

Listen, I know it’s dangerous to throw footballs — or, in Ohio State coach Urban Meyer’s case, headsets — when you live in a glass house yourself. Mizzou football has had its share of issues to say the least, and that’s why I feel hypocritical for rejoicing in other teams’ losses. I didn’t shed a tear over Derrick Washington getting kicked off our team in 2010 after being charged with sexual assault. The anger set in later, though, when the coaches admitted to knowing about Washington’s history of rape allegations long before seeking discipline (their excuse was that he hadn’t been charged). When that little tidbit showed up in August, I was ashamed of my school, and I know I’m not the only one. “Mizzou-Made” isn’t supposed to end with the parenthetical “(A Huge Mistake).”

But at least the coaching staff seems to have learned our lesson, as Pinkel dismissed Dorial Beckham-Green, the freshman Golden Boy, for simply being arrested (not charged) for marijuana possession. Bonus points for how the team collectively accepted Michael Sam’s sexuality and treated it as a non-issue, too. Being gay isn’t a crime, of course, but it still points to a team that’s headed for the right end zone, especially when some of the top teams (FSU, Notre Dame, etc.) are pushing the opposite direction.

My hope for the next year of football has nothing to do with winning — OK, a third consecutive year as SEC East champs would be nice — and everything to do with getting college football back on track as a noble endeavor. Like the rest of my generation, I’m all for the greater-good when it comes to what I buy, where I eat and which celebrities I like. Urban Outfitters’ Kent State sweatshirt was just one more reason why I don’t walk into that store let alone spend money in it, but I’m far more willing to eat at a Panera Bread when I know they run Operation Dough-Nation every night to supply shelters with leftover food.

Why don’t we make a resolution to extend that socially conscious mindset to our football teams, too?

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