Blame Honey Badger for sad end? Maybe it should fall on the system instead


Last Friday I was making my way home from Tallahassee, Fla., when word came that Tyrann Mathieu -- LSU's most dynamic player -- had been kicked off the team.

My mind immediately raced back to last December's SEC Championship Game between No. 1 LSU and Georgia.

I was on the floor of the Georgia Dome working for CBS. As the first half progressed it was obvious that LSU was sleepwalking. Players started waving towels trying to get their fans energized. Nothing was working. Georgia jumped ahead 10-0. LSU needed something to change the dynamic of the game.

They got it with 5:48 left in the first half when Mathieu, the "Honey Badger," returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown to make it 10-7 at intermission.

A friend, an excited Georgia fan, asked me what I thought at halftime with the Bulldogs up by three.

"It's over," I told him. "The Honey Badger woke them up."

More on Tyrann Mathieu
Related links
More college football coverage

Mathieu recovered a fumble on Georgia's first possession of the second half and the rout was on. LSU 42, Georgia 10.

Mathieu was, of course, the game's MVP, the first defensive player in 17 years to be so honored. He stopped by our broadcast location on the field to say hello. I shook his hand and told him I had been covering the SEC a long time.

"You have a chance to be something special," I told him. "Please stay focused."

Mathieu had been suspended earlier in the season, reportedly for drug use.

"Yes sir. I will," he said.

We now know that whatever demons Tyrann Mathieu was fighting -- be they the trappings of fame or his difficult upbringing -- he simply could not overcome them. In short, Mathieu's biological father is in prison and his mother could not raise him. He was taken in by a grandfather who died in 1997. Then his aunt and uncle adopted him. The scars were always there.

I'm not making excuses for Mathieu. He knew the rules. He knew the consequences of failing to follow the rules. He made a personal choice that will cost him millions of dollars, even if he does eventually make it to the NFL.

And the fact is that the vast majority of college football players follow the rules.

But when we, the adults, take the time to really examine why someone with so much talent, so much promise, would choose to risk losing it all, it takes us to a most uncomfortable conclusion:

To some extent we're all guilty for the fall of Tyrann Mathieu.

 When we offer a 14-year old kid a scholarship, we're guilty.

 When we put four or five stars by a kid's name and hang on his every word until he signs on the dotted line, we're guilty.

 When we hold press conferences in high schools for kids to VERBALLY announce where they are going to school, we're guilty.

 When we hold press conferences on national signing day where kids play with hats, signs, dogs and the media turns out in full force and gives the process legitimacy, we're guilty.

 When college coaches tell teenage children anything and everything they (and their parents) want to hear in order to get them to sign because careers and millions of dollars hang in the balance, we're guilty.

 When the sense of entitlement created in high school is allowed to continue in college because winning (and making money) is all that matters, we're guilty.

 When we allow the primary (and sometimes only) goal of these kids to become holding up a jersey with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on a Thursday night in New York City, we're guilty.

 When we in the media go along with the process because we're trying to satisfy the public's insatiable appetite for college football, we're guilty.

Now I'm not saying that every high school kid is screwed up when he gets to college because of this system. Most guys who come to college get through it just fine. They know going in that pro ball is not in their future. They get a degree, find a job, get on with their lives and are happy to have played college football.

But you look at kids who sabotage their futures like Mathieu, former Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell (now at Alabama State) and former Florida State defensive back Greg Reid. All are stars and have been kicked off their respective teams this summer on the eve of what looked like a career-defining season for each.

They profess to love the game of football but would rather engage in behavior that puts the very thing they love at risk. When it happens you have to wonder if the system is letting them down.

There is no doubt in my mind that LSU did everything it could to help Tyrann Mathieu try to deal with the monster we all helped to create. And at the end of the day each individual is responsible for his or her own actions.

But are the adults -- consciously or subconsciously -- leading some of these kids to believe they are bulletproof? Does the star system, which starts earlier and earlier in the lives of these talented young people, make them believe there will be no consequences to their actions?

Yet another of college football's brightest stars flamed out prematurely Friday. Regardless of what team you pull for, if you love the game it has to make you sad.

The Tony Barnhart Show begins Aug. 28 on The CBS Sports Network.

Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.

Biggest Stories

CBSSports Facebook Google Plus
Conversation powered by Livefyre


Most Popular

CBSSports Shop