4 min read

College Football Players Are People And Sometimes We Forget That

It was in 2010 when Nevada came to BYU. Johnathan Bender, a Nevada offensive lineman, made what I believed to be a dirty play against BYU defensive lineman Romney Fuga. It looked like Fuga was completely out of the play and that Bender took a dive towards the back of Fuga's legs. Fuga went down. He tore his ACL and missed the remainder of the season.

The whole stadium booed, which was totally fine, but I was still pretty riled up after the game. What did I do? I did what many fans were doing in 2010. I found Bender on Twitter, created an account, and tweeted my first tweets ever.

They are also some of the only tweets that I've gone back and apologized for. I had to reach out to Bender directly to say I was sorry. I have no idea if he ever saw the apology, but I couldn't live with myself without apologizing.

I don't remember the specifics of what I said anymore, but it was something about hoping that someone would take him out the next game and hoping that he would lose both of his knees to a dirty cheap shot. There were five or six tweets (that was back in the 140 character days!) of nothing but ill will directed towards him.

Those were the only tweets that I tweeted for months and months. I created @rakoto10 for the sole purpose of being a dick to Johnathan Bender for a cheap shot.

I knew Fuga. Years later, he and I were talking about the hit. He told me that he never viewed it as a cheap shot - just an unfortunate accident. I immediately felt regret and that was when I had to apologize.

That feels like an appropriate story for this week. This week has been a wild week because of the choice of one really dumb Utah fan who chose to make a cheap joke out of Max Hall's darkest life moments.

If you're reading this, you know the story and the subsequent reaction so we're not going to rehash all of that. Hall and his family have responded admirably and he talked about it all with Garrett and I earlier this week.

This is just latest example of college football fans thinking that college football players aren't people. This is the latest example of football players being treated more like animals in a zoo than like people that we would sit next to on a plane. Does that sound like an overreaction? Well, would you make a shirt with the mugshot of the random stranger on the plane on it? I didn't think so.

The reaction to this was almost universally consistent. Whether people were red or blue, they all agreed that this shirt was a moronic event by a moron of a human being. It was not representative of the majority of football fans. That is important to note.

But it still happened. And to Max Hall's wife, Mckinzi, it didn't matter that it was just one (in this case, it was actually two) moron. It cut deep and had a major impact. It wouldn't have mattered to either of Max's kids that it was one or two morons - it would have led to days of questions, concerns and impact.

One moron goes a long ways.

This isn't the first time morons have taken the hardships of others too far.

Just this week, BYUtv released their Deep Blue special on Chaz Ah You. He was arrested last year after being falsely accused of a DUI. All of the charges were dropped nothing came from the arrest. But in the court of public opinion, Ah You had already been judged.

He went into depression and struggled to get out. He had suicidal thoughts and considered ending his life.

His darkest moment in life - a moment that shouldn't have been dark at all - was drawn out in the public eye for the entire world to see.

I distinctly remember going to the BYU at Utah State game in 2010. The Aggies got the best of the Cougars in that game, but that's not what I remember about the game. (Actually, the thing I really remember the most is trying to walk out of that muppet set of a stadium to the north and having to scale a mountain like a deer because, apparently, Utah State doesn't believe in doors throughout the stadium.)

I remember walking into the stadium and seeing shirts throughout the USU student section. "Hey Harvey, where's the baby?" the shirt said. There was a picture of a pregnant woman on the back.

Harvey Unga had just been dismissed from BYU after his girlfriend got pregnant. Obviously, that was a tough situation. Unga has talked about it since and with the benefit of hindsight and time, that moment led to his child and was one of the greatest moments of his life. But at the time, it was a dark moment.

And he was mocked for it.

So was Brandon Davies. So was Neil Pau'u.

If you're thinking something to the tune of, "BYU players are judged so harshly. You're right, Jeff." then you are wrong.

BYU fans wouldn't dream of making jokes about Ula Tolutau's arrest for smoking pot, would they?

These players are real human beings. They have parents. They grow up and have families. The things that fans say about them don't go away with graduation - they stick around forever. Obviously, choices have consequences. But this isn't a consequence that these players have to experience. These are consequences that fans - who have no skin in the game whatsoever - create unnecessarily.

BYU players and BYU fans are looked at through a microscope. Due to the public nature of the Honor Code and the standards that BYU chooses to live by, they are judged more harshly than they probably should be. It makes things really difficult for players.

LaVell Edwards Stadium is a great place. The environment is crazy and loud. But, it doesn't have to be hostile. I learned that lesson the hard way once. A moron with a bad taste in shirts in learning that lesson in an even harder way today. But you don't have to have a moronic moment or be a moron to learn this lesson. We all can and should be a little better starting this weekend.

Being a football fan doesn't mean you have to be an asshole. Most of us aren't. But if you are, stop it. If you see someone being an asshole, stop them. Let's make LES a place that people are excited to claim as their second home and that people are enthusiastic about visiting. We do a good job. Let's do a better job.